Begging For More


by Neil Nisbet

“Through a wide reaching programme of research and consultation the Arts Council will explore how people value the arts and, by gaining a deeper understanding of what is important to them, become more accountable to the public it serves.”

Thus begins Arts Council England’s latest attempt to get the public on board with the whole idea of using their money, through taxes, to pay for the arts.

You see, the public don’t like it when their money gets spent on the arts because a lot of the time they never get to see the art they paid for. Hospitals and schools are fine, so are nuclear submarines and attack helicopters because those things are big and shiny and even if they can’t see them and touch them the public know they exist because they’re always on the news when it turns out they don’t work very well.

A lot of the public don’t think we need the arts anyway. A nuclear submarine can be used to keep us safe from terrorists or accidentally sink the odd fishing boat or two. Hospitals make the great unwashed all better after they make themselves sick drinking, smoking and eating cheeseburgers boiled in lard. On the other hand what can you do with a song or an actor or a painting or, of course, a dancer?

The public like nice big shiny objects they can point at and ACE, being the subservient types that they are, goes into ‘fawn’ mode and touches the forelock.

It’s all done in the name of inclusion but the real reason is far more mundane. The government is about to review the amount of money it gives to the arts, the Olympics in 2012 are going to cost an obscene amount of money, something has to give, so ACE is panicking.

Instead of making a genuine case for the arts along the lines of; “The arts have been around a lot longer than sport and are intrinsic to who we are as people, as a country, as a civilization and without them we are lost so hand over the cash Johnny Politician or you’ll go the way of the Tsar and not in a good way!” ACE dives under a rock and starts begging for permission to exist. This begging comes in the form of a so-called “Public Value Enquiry”. Yes it really is called something that boring.

Being the magnanimous types we are here in TheLabâ„¢ we thought ACE could do with a bit of a hand in coming up with a reason to fund the arts with billions of pounds, not millions. In fact here are 250 reasons to give money to the arts, take a deep breath:

Michelangelo, Puccini, Verdi, New York City Ballet, Constable, J.J. Abrams, Kevin Bright, Mozart, Steven Spielberg, Matt Groening, Rudolph Nureyev, Quincy Jones, Jasmin Vardimon, Faust, Charles Dickens, David Ackerman, Phillip Pullman, Martin Sheen, Ridley Scott, Margot Fonteyn, Nijinsky, George Balanchine, Brad Bird, John Lassiter, Morgan Freeman, Alice Sebold, Guillermo Arriaga, Alejandro González Iñárritu, Francis Ford Coppola, Paul Simon, Aretha Franklin, The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Bob Marley, Fats Domino, Bob Dylan, George Lucas, Dennis Hopper, Davis Guggenheim, Dustin Hoffman, Mickhail Baryshnikov, Merce Cunningham, Sean Connery, Janis Joplin, Elvis Costello, Pink Floyd, Akram Khan, Jackie Wilson, Salvador Dali, Leanardo da Vinci, Picasso, Hemingway, Mark Twain, Willaim Burroughs, Frederic Chopin, David Strathairn, T.S. Eliot, Alfred Hitchcock, Jonathan Swift, James Joyce, Robin Howard, Charlie Chaplin, Aaron Sorkin, David Webb Peoples, Puccinni, Stephen Fry, Wired Aerial Theatre, BareBones, Ultima Vez, Kajza Ekberg, Phil Sanger, Ira Siobhan, Janet Smith, Tex Avery, Stan Lee, Joseph Barbera, William Hanna, John Williams, Nancy Cartwright, Hofesh Shechter, Fin Walker, John Denver, Johnny Cash, John Hughes, Grant Heslov, John Candy, Andrew Stanton, Michael Chanbon, Steven Kloves, Alexander Payne, Sam Cooke, Norah Jones, Otis Redding, Walter Murch, Bradley Whitford, John Spencer, Francisco Araiza, Roberto Alagna, Elisabeth Agnethe Anderson, Krista Adams Santilli, Gore Vidal, Christine Akre, George Gershwin, Haydn, Mathew Perry, John Lennon, Eric Clapton, Douglas Trumbull, Marylin Manson, Zach Braff, David E. Kelly, Peter MacNicol, Steve McQueen, Clint Eastwood, William Forsythe, Philip Kaufman, Michael J. Fox, Bob Gale, Robert Zemeckis, Tom Jankiewicz, George Armitage, Harold Ramis, Bill Murray, Erna Omarsdottir, Jóhan Jóhannson, Scottish Dance Theatre, Australian Dance Theatre, Protien, Diversions, Vincent Dance Theatre, Yana Martel, Terry Pratchett, M. Scott Peck, Blake Morrison, Primo Levi, J.K. Rowling, John Steinbeck, Roger Michel, William Goldman, David Mamet, Brian De Palma, Jeffrey Lieber, Damon Lindelof, Tim Kring, Masi Oka, Paul Scheuring, Zack Estrin, Karyn Usher, Allison Janney, Gavin Coward, Mafalda Deville, Conor Doyle, Lise Manavit, Avril Murphy, Melanie Nezereau, Toby Fitzgibbons, Ruth Jansenn, James MacGillvery, Gemma Nixon, Bruce Springsteen, Pink, Ray Charles, James Brown, Chris Carter, Frank Spotnitz, Michael Caine, Scarlett Johansson, Michael Mann, Eric Roth, Al Pacino, Paul Schrader, Witi Ihimaera, Niki Caro, Foo Fighters, Stone Temple Pilots, Nine Inch Nails, Smokey Robinson, Tchaikovsky, Ennio Morricone, John Huston, Richard Harris, Robert Downey Jr, Patricia Clarkson, Bill Pope, Johnathon Ive, Yann Tiersen, Procul Harum, Lisa Gerrard, Israel Kamakawiwo’ole, Elvis Presley & The Animaniacs.

ACE has been in existence for 60 years now and it is slightly troubling that they still don’t have a concrete answer to the nay saying politicians, who may or may not cut arts funding on a whim, as to why the arts are important. Asking the general public is probably the last thing they should be doing because it gives the, probably accurate, impression that they have no idea what they are doing.

It’s time for ACE to come of age, it’s time for ACE to “strap on a pair” and stop being so polite. Their “Public Value Enquiry” is nothing more than an exercise in bad management and paper shuffling the end result of which will be another useless booklet. Mind you, at least the booklet will have some nice pictures in it.

Walking up to the table with the begging bowl and saying “can I have some more please” is not the way to go.

Over the last 60 years ACE should have made the arts an integral part of the political debate so when election time comes around the politicos cannot skirt around the subject or ignore it altogether.

In a world with sociopathic lunatics blowing up commuter trains, teenagers shooting each other for kicks, corporations strip mining the bank accounts of the poor and a whole lot more do we still need to ask why the arts are a good idea?

The general public can make their strongest contribution by making it very clear to their Member of Parliament that screwing with the arts is not an option and should they choose to do so their over fed, fat backsides will be out of a job faster than you can say “Israel Kamakawiwo’ole” which is no mean feat.

Now, who would like to offer the best odds on ACE showing some passion, we’ve got a crisp £5 note to throw away?

UPDATE: Some readers have pointed out that many of the artists listed above are not British and were never funded by ACE or any other public body for that matter. This is perfectly true although it misses the point. All art is publicly funded. If you go to the cinema, buy CD’s or DVD’s, goto a concert, buy a book or whatever else you are funding the arts. Paying for it via your taxes is no different, you just don’t get to choose specifically what you want to fund.

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Send us your list of artists and we’ll make a gigantic list to send to ACE so they can finally ‘get it’.

[ image by Kirsty Pargeter ]