Arts funding in austere times: public and private money

Some of Britain’s national treasures: cathedrals of culture, altars of high art.... Mind you, they don’t come cheap.
To state fund the arts, or not to state fund the arts? That is the question which has engrossed politicians and cultural commentators for decades. Whether ‘tis nobler for the taxpayer to stump-up or for the arts to rely on wealthy benefactors, just like they used to do in the olden days.
MARC SIDWELL: We forget that public funding for The Arts is really an experiment in the UK. It’s something that started just after the War and really wasn’t in the British tradition at all. Right through the 19th century and before that, of course, which was a time when Britain produces a lot of great art. You know, this is a country of Shakespeare, and Milton, and Constable, and Purcelle and all the rest of it. There was always the view that the state stands back from The Arts.
But even Shakespeare accepted state funding from the Lord Chancellor of his time. And today’s theatrin impresarios think he might have been on to something.
NICK STARR: It’s only the state – and the empirical evidence is there – that will be back something that hasn’t yet existed. And the new is where, the unknown, the untested, is where the biggest hits come from. I know this because when we did “Warhorse” it really was a few people wandering around the room in our R&D center with cardboard boxes on their heads. We had no idea it would turn into a global hit and has absolutely saved the finances of the National Theater.
The Arts Council in England is facing a five percent cut in its government funding but it’s still likely to receive more than 348 million of our tax-pans this year. However, some people think it’s time for someone else to pick up the tab.
MARC SIDWELL: There’re all sorts of commercial models. I also think we’re much richer than we’ve been before. There’s a lot more superwealthy people in London. There’s lots of room for modern forms of patronage. But the problem is, when you have funding through the state, it rather crowds out other alternatives to some extent.
Whatever the rights and wrongs of state funding, though, both Mark and Nick agree on one thing: it’s probably here to stay.
MARC SIDWELL: I see no sign of anyone with the political guts to change how art is funded. It simply looks too bad and is too unpopular even if the results might actually be better, might create a more robust art sector with more diverse sources of funding ; might indeed produce more interesting and creative forms of art and would get art away from the long arm of the state.
NICK STARR: Why would you give up - why would you retrench on something which, from the world’s perspective, we do very, very well? Why wouldn’t you celebrate that? I don’t think these arguments are lost on the current government. I think they’re known very, very well.
Source: BBC


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