The Arts Council’s unexpected decision to cut their support after 14 years for the 53 year old National Student Drama Festival has immediately put at risk the annual festival, scheduled to take place in 3 months time. Arts Council Yorkshire has made no criticism of NSDF. It’s reasons for cutting the annual £52,000 grant is that it has decided to “refocus our investment”. It wishes to support: “the strongest, highest quality building-based producing theatres…the most dynamic and innovative touring companies…venues that support the changing nature of theatre.” It says it is looking to fund “a portfolio of strong, effective organisations that help to deliver increased attendance and participation in high quality arts.”
This is what the National Student Drama Festival has been doing and will continue to do.
I have never been to NSDF but I have been involved with a number of shows that have, and with a number of people who have worked there. I have seen the huge amount of time, money and effort our selected shows put in to raise the money to be able to attend.
Everyone in our shows worked for nothing and many of them helped out other shows, or the main NSDF team for nothing. One or two said they saw some good stuff, but the majority seemed to feel... well... "meh."
I am sure that the NSDF is a valuable institution: it has been going for 53 years, after all.
Which rather begs the question: since the Arts Council has only been funding them for the last 14 years, what did they do before that?
I have a bit of a conflict in this area, I must admit; whilst I don't believe that the state—or, rather (and this can never be repeated enough), the taxpayer—should not fund the arts, I do enjoy watching theatre. It has an immediacy that television or film simply cannot match.
On the other hand, I do understand that just because I like theatre, that is no reason why it should be subsidised by those who do not want to watch it and who can barely afford to make ends meet anyway. In fact, all of the arguments against funding the current funding of the BBC also apply to other arts.
This has been preying on my mind as, on Sunday night, I was having an argument about this with someone who works in theatre professionally. She maintained that much of the quality theatre simply wouldn't happen without government grants, that you would be left only with the big West End Theatres and everything else would die.
I'm not sure that this is the case; theatre existed before the state started funding it. Indeed, the biggest arts festival in the world, the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, started without any funding at all.
Any ideas one way or the other, especially from anyone in the industry, happily received in the comments.
UPDATE: Timmy highlights a story on a similar theme.
Arts Council England (Ace) was plunged into a crisis when 500 of the country’s top actors passed an unprecedented vote of no confidence in the organisation over cuts it is making in grants to almost 200 theatres and music companies.
The supplicants for your and my money are hardly going to cheer when the swill trough is removed now, are they?Mr Hewitt was told by Sam West, Alison Steadman and Caroline Quentin that hitting regional and London fringe theatres would have a damaging knock-on effect that would lead to the whole of British theatre being "starved" of plays, directors and actors.
Snigger. Cue Dr. Strangelove and the mines gap. One thing the UK is never going to have a shortage of is luvvies.
Let’s get this straight shall we? There shouldn’t be any taxpayer subsidy for the arts. You like it, you love it, great, get out there and do it. If you’re not good enough to draw a large enough paying crowd to make money out of it then you’re going to have to do it for free. There’s really no reason to tax the dustman and the nurse for this indoor relief for that part of the population that likes to show off.
Indeed. Although, I have to point out that under my benign (but dictatorial) regime, there would have been such massive tax cuts that, although theatre prices would go up with no state funding, anyone who really wanted to go would have enough money in their back pocket for it to be easily affordable.
But, essentially, the arts sector—in common with just about every other section of the population in this country—is going to have to get used not to being propped up by the state.