The Evil Imp

Upside Down

The arts world in the UK is getting its knickers in a collective knot, again, after somebody who doesn’t matter said something that isn’t true on a radio show people only pretend to listen to.

Here in TheLab™ we didn’t hear what was actually said. First of all because it was on the radio and this is 2012. Secondly, it was on BBC Radio 4, a station with the personality of a trainspotter who has been dead for several years.

The person who said the thing that almost certainly isn’t true was Will Gompertz (he was on the Today show) the alleged culture correspondent for the BBC and the inspiration for the immortal line from the movie ‘The Hangover’ which is “you are literally too stupid to insult!”

Mr Gompertz ran out the old trope that the arts are elitist, or for people who have butlers and chauffeurs and snack on caviar sprinkled with diamonds along with some other nonsense about 8% of something. A number that if not made up by the man himself was certainly made up by somebody else.

As already stated, we didn’t hear it but that doesn’t matter, because we’ve heard it all before.

Cultural Poverty

The arts may not be elitist but there is a more pervasive problem that will take a lot longer to fix and that problem is cultural poverty.

What is that? It’s simple, the arts, in a lot of ways, are simply too expensive for people to take part in. Even in the grotty “regions” as London folk are so fond of calling them, ticket prices for performances are, more often than not, north of £15 a throw. Classes and workshops aren’t cheap either, no matter where you live.

Thanks to the complete lack of economic growth, declining wages, increasing unemployment, appalling public transportation infrastructure, crazy fuel prices and falling arts subsidies the whole cultural sector is rapidly pricing itself out of the market.

The very people the arts are trying to reach have to think long and hard before they can pony up to see the latest creations.

For sure, Arts Council England can take some of the blame thanks to their London centric, large-scale obsession when it comes to funding but the bigger problem is beyond ACE to fix. This is actually reassuring because ACE, at present, is a complete basket case and they couldn’t fix a flat tyre on a clown car.

Upside down

At the core of the problem is the fact that too many people are living to work as opposed to working to live. The whole “having a life” idea has been turned completely upside down.

Successive governments, politicians and a fair few members of the general public are under the deluded impression that life should be a hard slog. Working yourself to death “for a pittance of pay” is all part of some morbid social contract. If two jobs aren’t enough to sustain you and yours then get a third one, never mind sleep or food, get back to work.

Going to the theatre, the cinema, a football match or whatever your “thing” is should be as regular an occurrence as going to the supermarket to buy food, which people also can’t afford to do anymore apparently.

Doing “nice” things in your life should be the norm, not the exception and engaging with the arts is, believe or not, a nice thing. We would go so far as too say it’s a joyful thing to do. But in these “austere” times nobody is allowed to feel joy just for the sake of it. You have to earn it, you have to suffer first or no joy for you.


Turning things around, at the moment, probably seems impossible. But, nothing is impossible, apart from travelling beyond the speed of light and even that is just a theory.

Governments can be changed, that’s why we have elections, politicians can be lobbied and influenced to do the right thing over time, you just need to learn how to do it, but the arguments that need be made are not about “elitism” or London.

The arguments that need to be made are about turning peoples lives the right way up so if they want to go to the theatre, watch an opera or a dance performance then they can. If they want to go to a class or a workshop then it needs be a simple decision to take for families and the ever growing ranks of single people.

Such things need to be about choice. If people don’t have choice, then society is broken and it needs to be fixed. Never mind putting things “within reach”, let’s put it so close they can smell the popcorn, so to speak.

Stop obsessing over numbers, reports, forms and evaluations. Find the problems, fix the problems and then move onto the next one. If the people “in charge” don’t fix the problems then get some new people and we all know who they are.

The arts, always arguing about the wrong things.