Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Let's fund Polly through the arts budget!

Yes, ladies and gentlemen, it's time for our usual dose of you know who! Much, like a powerful medicine, she's bitter to the taste but, more like drinking drain-cleaner, she makes you feel worse rather than better: yes, please welcome, ladies and gentlemen, here, live, on Is she a liar or is she a moron?, it's.... Polly Toynbee!

On a more serious note, Polly is indeed here and all of our hope is gone; with this one, she has clearly defeated the Conservative campaign even before it has started. Cameron may as well give up now, frankly.
The arts of the state could yet prove a political weapon

Although not, presumably, as powerful as Gordon's weapon but—hist!—we shall save that for another time...
The Guardian Hay festival is in full, glorious swing. Arts festivals are sprouting and multiplying. Literary festivals are fast filling part of the nation's democratic deficit as the hot new debating arenas, politics-heavy and almost politician-free. (More people now take part in the arts each year than vote.)

Says who, Pol? I know an awful lot of people who work professionally in the arts and it seems to me like it is the same people travelling from festival to festival. But, of course, I must be wrong...
The Brighton festival, which I chair...

Which would explain why you were, only a week or so ago, urging us all to stop being howwid to you and go to the Brighton Festival; ah, now I understand. That got declared as advertising in kind, did it?
... ended its three exuberant weeks on Sunday, celebrating a 40th anniversary as England's biggest arts festival, (second in Britain only to Edinburgh).

Do you remember that old Bill Hicks joke about the sizes of armies? You know, about how, between the third and fourth largest armies in the world there was a reeeeeaaaal big drop off...? Which Edinburgh Festival are you talking about anyway Polly? The Edinburgh International Festival, the Edinburgh Film Festival, the Edinburgh Book Festival, the Edinburgh Music Festival or the Edinburgh Festival Fringe? Or are you just lumping them all together into the one big festival? Who knows?
Half a million people came to see performances from the highest to the lowest art...

Half a million? Or quarter of a million turning up twice? Or what?
... opening with a parade of 70 primary schools, all the children dressed as food.

Although not, obviously, junk food. They were are dressed as carrots or broccoli. Or, given the problems about child obesity, maybe they manifested as a marching line of broad beans and turnips.
Was the high spot the Groupe F pyrotechnics arts performance, with 70,000 people out in Preston Park, or was it Dawn Upshaw singing in the Brighton Dome with the Australian Chamber Orchestra?

Well, for heaven's sake, woman! How should I know? Weren't you there?
These things bursting out up and down the land are as good a measure of wellbeing as any.

Really? How? These things are usually organised by a few exptremely dedicated people who are usually motivated by the idea of being able to make some money from them. These aren't the proles organising spontaneous street parties, Polly; and believe me, the people who run these festivals are pretty far away from "well-being" for most of the time that they're involved. Believe me.
But they all cost money.

Well, yes, Polly, they do; but let me explain the principles of purchasing to you, Polly. When I want to go to a film or I want to buy a CD, I go out and spend my money buying those products. I don't expect everyone to be taxed more so that the people concerned can give it to me for free.

Do you see?
David Cameron is unlikely to pledge extra arts funding in pursuit of happiness: his one firm promise is that his tax-and-spend will be "dramatically different after five years".

Polly, my dear, arts funding isn't all it's cracked up to be (unless you are both a boot-licking NuLabour apparachik and run a festival). Have you not been following the Scottish Arts Council's woes, or the ludicrous criteria for choosing the lucky winning companes?
Labour has a good enough story to tell on the arts - up 64% in cash and more in impact. Chris Smith is one of the few politicians to retire knowing he has done something brilliant - restoring free entry to museums and galleries, swelling attendances by 50%. But politics and art rub along like a fingernail on a blackboard: ministers too rarely sing its praises.

What I want to know is: has anyone told Polly about the existence of Factchecking Pollyanna?
Charges affected fewer than 30% of museum visits back when the charges were scrapped in 2001. Since then, there has been a 67% increase in visits to museums which used to charge (69% in the first year, so actually a fall after the first year boost). Museums which were always free saw a 2% increase. Overall visits increased 21%.

And not 50%.

Or, indeed, The Vented Spleen (who provides some soft-porn entertainment)?
This is a classic piece of leftie spin and she’s swallowed quicker than if Gordon undid his trousers for her… Labour didn’t do some glorious revolution and “restore free entry to museums” they just ordered all the museums that they could to stop charging entry. They didn’t give them any more money, they justy pulled the fees. Collections such as the Royal Armouries, Imperial War Museum etc, are now losing out to private collectors and employing bottom rate people without an ounce of history knowledge like never before.

To add to this rant… what use to the museum is 50% more visitors if they can’t charge them? It’s no fecking use at all.

Blogs—3 : Polly—0

Anyway, back to her worship.
As part of the Brighton festival, John Carey debated his latest book, What Good Are the Arts? With witty iconoclasm he demolished any claim for their moral virtue. Forget any idea they make us "better" people: Nazi leaders played Beethoven and even Bach as they fed people into gas chambers. Hitler was a knowledgeable art lover. His Strength Through Joy organisation brought art to the masses "to raise them above the petty cares of the moment". The humanities don't necessarily humanise.

Once more to The Spleen, dear friends!
So the arts will not make society or us better… so I now don’t see the reason to state fund them.. do you?

Er, no.
On the contrary, exaggerated worship of art can make human beings expendable - a view prevalent among many art connoisseurs if asked to debate that old chestnut: "If a man were trapped under St Paul's, would you pull it down to save him?" Watch New York donors stepping over the welfareless poor to attend a $10,000 ballet fundraiser to doubt art lovers have refined sensibilities. No, art won't do as a substitute religion.

Riiiight. So art doesn't humanise us and can, in fact, be seen as actively bad. So this is an example of "wellbeing" is it? This is something beneficial to society, yes? Or no? I can't make out what she's saying...
But Carey's take-no-prisoners argument forces us to examine the case again. There is at least a vitamin argument: when no one could identify vitamins, it was only discovered how essential they were by the diseases caused by deficiency. You can argue about what art is and struggle to prove what good the arts do, but you know that a society deficient in them is pitifully impoverished.

And before state funding of the arts there was... What? No art?
Arts Council England is approaching the next tight spending round with trepidation. Britain is already a low state funder of the arts, paying only £50 a head while Italy spends nearly three times as much, France four times and Austria almost five times more. Yet we squeeze out good value, outstripping them in cultural exports.

Well, that's partly because we speak English, the lingua franca of the world. But what you are essentially saying, Pol, is that the arts actually works well on a low budget because the government is only a funder of the arts and not a provider.

So, you'd support this approach for the NHS and education I would imagine. No? polly, you disappoint me—whilst utterly failing to surprise me.
The theatre alone brings £2.6bn into the economy.

And how much does it cost? Is that a profit figure or total turnover?
That may be a sadly utilitarian measurement, but like everything else the arts must tick boxes even when it's easy to hit a target but miss the point. Like many of Labour's best programmes, the arts feel a crushing weight of trying to prove in numbers what is blindingly obvious to any passerby.

That actors are all a bunch of poofs in leotards?
Children sitting entranced by a performance, those who have never seen anything live before, are gaining something anyone can see in that moment of enchantment. But what box does that tick?

The Social Inclusion box, Polly, if I remember correctly from my funding forms. Also the Revenue Source box, which is pretty crucial as well. Oh, and you get extra funding if it is for children; you can tick the Educationl box then as well, you see. There may be others, but I haven't done one of them for a while.
The 2 million people who now gather to see live operas from Covent Garden relayed on gigantic screens in Hull, Manchester, Rotherham or Leeds are gaining something immeasurable. But yes, alas, it is immeasurable.

Well, at present. But it does become measurable when you put a price on it; how much is each individuals willing to pay to see an opera? You can then measure what they get out of it in terms of pounds and pence then. It's a useful mechanism that you may wish to engage in sometime, Pol: we call it the market.
The Sultan's Elephant, that miraculous, memorable-for-a-lifetime happening in central London cost a million, and a million people saw it progressing through the streets. Yet such street art isn't allowed to be counted in the Arts Council's figures for public participation, Peter Hewitt, ACE's chief executive says ruefully. (So if you want to know what art is, it's best to ask the Treasury.)

Hang on, Polly: are you saying that the government isn't very good at telling what art is? You are, you are! You're saying that the government doesn't know what art is! And if it doesn't know, how can it possibly be the best to administer funding for it? Eh?
Some arts do have (almost) proven use. Creative Partnerships was set up in just 36 deprived areas to bring artists of all kinds to work in 1,100 of the poorest schools. Perhaps a group of disruptive 16-year-old boys is preventing everyone studying for their GCSEs. They take them out and teach them to dance for a term, bringing them back in to make a transformation in the whole year group. Or it's the primary children with such poor vocabularies that they can't sit still and listen. For more than a year two actors help them write a play, stretching for new words, concentrating for two hours a session, fascinated by how words build up into a story. It reached parts of their attention a ponderous literacy hour never did.

Artists working with teachers works. It costs £32,000 per school, but head-teachers say they get far more value from it than they would from an extra teacher: Ofsted is expected to give the scheme a glowing report. In an independent survey of 650 headteachers by the British Market Research Bureau, 70% said it improved behaviour, 79% said it improved attainment and 92% said it improved pupil communication. Of course that's not wholly conclusive, but nothing ever will be.

Oh, I don't know, Polly; I would say that it is pretty conclusive that the Earth does indeed orbit the Sun. Still, there's two points of interest here: firstly, give head teachers more control over their budgets and then they will be able to spend more on these useful schemes.

The second is that the student theatre that I still work with has run a similar sort of thing, albeit at the weekend, for the last 8 years. For free, every week during term time. Despite the fact that all participants have full disclosures done (as they have to by law; the theatre pays for them. Call it giving something to the community), we find it almost impossible to get the schools to engage at all; most do not even put the posters up that we send them. Perhaps Polly would like to bring this miraculous enthusiasm north of the border because, at present, the Children's Project will probably shut down fairly soon unless schools actually make an effort. This would be a pity, since the children who do turn up love it.

Anyway, back to Polly.
The scheme's director, Paul Collard, says five times as many deprived schools need a Creative Partnership. It works, it's not expensive but it needs political will. Yet there is no plan to expand it and funding is uncertain. It's a symptom of too many pilot Labour initiatives: ministers move or lose interest, the press never reports it and brilliant programmes fade away, along with all the invaluable learning about what works. (Yes, keep sending me more examples.)

Well, yes, Pol, this is all very well but why are you discussing this in relation to the arts? If it is so beneficial, then why is it not paid for out of the education budget? You aren't really talking about public art here: this is a restricted "teaching performance" not a publically accessible exhibition.

In Scotland, a third of the school budget is pinched by the LEAs in order to pay for "administration". Are you advocating that we free up schools to manage their own budgets? For sure, I think that is, generally, a good idea (and not only because the schools—rather than a bunch of useless, waster pen-pushers—would get an extra third on top of their existing monies) but it does rather go against your managerialist tendencies, doesn't it? But if that is what you are advocating, that is great: the schools would easily be able to pay for the Creative Partnerships (CPs).

But the point is here that the schools would only pay for the CPs if they worked, so the CPs would have an incentive to actually do some good. If they were automatically funded, they would have no such motivation. They would become like every other government department: lazy, apathetic and corrupt. You see, it's this thing called the market again, Pol; it creates incentives (and maintains those incentives). More importantly, it allows each individual school to judge whether the CPs are an effective use of their resources or whether those resources would be better spent elsewhere. It's called "choice", Pol. But whatever your approach, this example is not a public arts issue; it is an education issue. have you no better example?
It's hard to know if Cameron's "happiness" was a one-day wonder or if it will be the stuff of real politics. If so, Labour should be able to knock him into nowhere with stories from the arts - whether it's art for art's sake, arts for regeneration and education or arts for illumination and exhilaration.

Wait a minute, Polly. You've just showed us an example of an arts endeavour that you consider to be good, and then told us that there is "no plan to expand it and funding is uncertain" under this government; that it's "a symptom of too many pilot Labour initiatives". And funding, for instance, for the Edinburgh Festival Fringe has been repeatedly cut over the last few years. So exactly what stories is NuLabour going to use to extol the virtues of their arts funding policy?
Take all those high scorers in the felicific calculus, raise the stakes and challenge Cameron to tell us how he will offer all this extra happiness on his "dramatically different" tax and spend.

Erm, by giving people their money back? And over to The Spleen again.
I imagine that low crime, better healthcare and education might just swing it for us.. sadly Polly won’t be happy until there are more dissected sharks in Trafalgar Square.

Polly Toynbee's writing is art in itself, wouldn't you agree? Perhaps we should get the Arts Council to fund her. Not.

Anyway, I have accused Polly of being either a liar or a moron; given that she has managed to contradict herself at least twice in this article, and used the usual spurious figures, I'm afraid that I am going to come down on the latter today.

That's right: tonight, ladies and gentlemen, Polly Toynbee is a fucking moron.

UPDATE: some good points from my angry colleague-in-fisking, Mr Eugenides: here's some edited highlights.
As it happens, I am going to diverge slightly from the line taken by my co-fiskers DK and Vented Spleen. I believe that there is a place for some state funding of the arts. I agree with Polly that a vibrant artistic scene - be it opera, art galleries, open-air theatre or a lone woman on a street corner playing the Etruscan fanny-pipes – is, if not as valuable a measure of a nation’s worth as, say, GNP, still something devoutly to be wished for.

Although, I must point out that I agree with this up to a point, it is the extent to which the organisations are funded that is moot. The making of a profit should always be attempted, otherwise the players will become merely lazy.
Now we come to it. Labour equals thriving culture and happy populace: the Tories would raze your local theatre to the ground, plough salt into the ashes, and then get British-American Tobacco in to build a death camp on the derelict site. Well actually, Polly, I spent a fair portion of my university years wandering through the art galleries of Glasgow absolutely free of charge – and with a nasty Tory government in power too!

It’s almost beyond parody. This is the left-wing view of public spending as an a priori good – turn on the taps and challenge the Tories to match your profligacy. More money good; less money bad. But remember; whatever Polly may think, this is not government money. It is yours and mine. Now, if we want to spend it on Shakespeare in the park, all well and good; as I said, there are worse abscesses lurking on the public purse. But I will not have my money leeched from me to fund Gordon’s late night games of political poker.

Actually, you know what? Sod funding the arts. Here's an idea; take the £32,000 you were going to spend on showing kids fingerpainting and use it to train a police officer to catch some fucking criminals. And - even better - it might be worth some votes for Labour, you scabby old bat.

The whole thing is a joy to read: do so, I command thee...


Anonymous said...

"Was the high spot, the Groupe F pyrotechnics arts performance, with 70,000 people out in Preston Park", the Islamic contribution to the Brighton Festival?

Blognor Regis said...

Great stuff as always DK.

As an aside to the fourth largest army stuff; does anybody know who, in terms of numbers of craft, has the world's largest navy?

Devil's Kitchen said...

Apparently, it's Brazil, although that entry seems to be incomplete...


Blognor Regis said...

Nope, their armada, like everybody else's, would be (seven?) dwarfed by the fleet owned by the Walt Disney Corporation.

Tim Newman said...

Artists working with teachers works. It costs £32,000 per school, but head-teachers say they get far more value from it than they would from an extra teacher:

Sounds to me like some artists are on the dole and need work badly. I'd hazard a guess that engineers working with teachers works too, but we're all out doing engineering.

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