The Evil Imp

Taking the Flack

A reader asked us why Article19 didn’t ask Arts Council England any questions regarding the announcement from the Brewhouse Theatre in Taunton about the fact the theatre was going into administration and essentially closing down.

Arts Council England was one of many organisations responsible for the venue simply not having enough money to operate. Funding had disappeared, in turn, from ACE, their local council and their county council. Closure was, perhaps, inevitable given how heavily the odds were stacked against them.

When you deal with an organisation like ACE, as a journalist, you go through the press office and, contrary to popular belief, the press officers inside organisations like ACE are not there to answer questions. They are there to run interference for their employers.

This is why there are often referred to as “flacks”. Named for the weapons used by defensive ground forces against hostile aircraft.

Without actually calling the press office at ACE towers we already knew what they were going to say, that is, they were not going to say anything at all.

Of course they will put out a statement with a few platitudes about the, now, ex-venue along with a few more benign sentences about funding constraints, policies and national expectations but obtaining and then reading meaningless “statements” is not our job as journalists and it’s not your expectation as a reader.

If we actually got through to one of the people responsible for removing the theatres funding in the first place and we could lean on them for 20 minutes, twisting them into a pretzel shaped object would be pretty straightforward.

The flacks know this of course which is why they won’t put any of those people on the phone or in front of camera if they think for one second that the person on the other side of the questions will be, metaphorically, wiring their boss up to car battery.

Why do you think Alan Davey, the CEO of ACE, only exposes himself to the public (pun absolutely intended) via text based “web chats”?

What To Do?

Doing something about this intractable behaviour is a complex and slow affair. We do have the Freedom of Information Act which can be useful but is very slow and easy to get around for the organisations fielding the requests. So much so it should be called the “freedom to not give out information if that information in any way makes us look bad”.

A more direct method is to do what we, here in theLab™, do all the time. Relentlessly and publicly needle them, point out every embarrassingly stupid thing they do and highlight the funding monoliths never ending hypocritically stupid behaviour. The same goes for everybody that enables them.

We don’t do it because we think it’s funny, which it often is, but because it needs to be done. Bad people are doing bad things and somebody needs to get in their face, so to speak.

While doing all that we have to, somehow, defend the existence of the Big Bad in the face of those that seek to erase it. What a strange world we live in.

And Finally

Since we are discussing the Brewhouse Theatre allow us to point out one more thing.

A blog post appeared on the theatre’s website that has since been deleted. Who wrote it is not clear, it was not particularly inflammatory, but one thing did catch our eye;

“The beauty of being unemployed is that I can say what I like, so here goes”.

Behind that sentence lies, perhaps, the crux of the problem. Only when the axe had finally fallen did somebody decide to speak out in very clear terms about the importance of the work the theatre was doing and take a jab at those responsible for the venues downfall.

Even then, somebody decided to pull the plug and pretend it never happened. So swiftly was it removed even Google’s legendary cache failed to catch the page in its clutches.

We would like to remind everybody that works in the arts (yet again) that your right to freedom of expression is not rescinded just because you get a monthly wage, receive funding from ACE (or not) or because you believe in little more than self preservation.

You work in the arts, which is all about freedom of expression, and we would rather you exercised the right to free expression sooner rather than later or at the very least before pretty much everything gets closed down.

If you can’t do it directly then find another way. You are, after all, adult human beings.