Arts Council cries for help

Further evidence that the Arts Council England (Ace) doesn’t know what it’s doing comes with the news that they are to employ 150 artistic assessors by advertising for them. Yes, you too can make a difference!

These newly recruited apparatchiks, each paid £1000 plus expenses, will each write a dozen or so reports a year on theatre, dance, galleries and concert halls as part of the council’s funding decisions.

This will presumably allow Ace staff to get around and actually see the endeavours they fund with our money even less regularly than they already do. If these people don’t know what they are doing, why are we paying for them in the first place?

The whole point of the Arts Council panels used to be that they were populated by experts — practitioners, politicians and critics — who covered the waterfront and brought years of experience and enthusiasm to bear on discussions that were channeled into some kind of coherent policy.

Now Ace seems to be moving towards a soft democratic advisory system that will lessen the likelihood of making what are now generally agreed to have been funding blunders, such as the cuts proposed for the Bush Theatre, the Exeter Northcott and the National Student Drama Festival.

I don’t see how the new tribe of meddlesome assessors will improve things at all. It will make it even more difficult for Ace to
bite the bullet and do the dirty work, however misguidedly.

And the appointed arbiters are likely to be so glad to have their free tickets and travel that they’ll like almost everything they see, rather like the docile anonymous voters who rustle up the craven Olivier Awards every year.

It’s as if we were turning our performing arts into a branch of the restaurant business, with a whole new race of  pernickety tasters creeping round our theatres and galleries issuing deathless verdicts on main courses and cheeky desserts.

That’s the critics’ job, guys! And restaurants are not subsidised by the taxpayer through organisations like Ace and all the local councils.

Andrew Nairne, executive director of arts strategy at Ace — what does that mean, exactly, I wonder? — says he’s excited about the diversity of opinions this initiative will attract.

But do we really want a diverse gabble of opinions from a bunch of schoolteachers, retired bank managers, posh housewives and inexperienced students fuelling national arts policies? They’re the audience, not the expert funders.

If Ace doesn’t think they can do the job on their own — and we know jolly well by now that they can’t — then they should resign en masse and allow the government to replace them with a better bunch of experts, on far better pay, who can. The present situation is a scandal.  

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