Wednesday, 6 August 2008

The next Tory Government and the Arts

The Tories are waiting in the wings, and every part of public life is beginning to wake up to what might be a new reality. Culture is no different.

In recent months, debate on cultural policy has focused on how the money is spent, with (and I paraphrase somewhat here) artists and cultural practitioners and their cheerleaders in the arts pages of the press (Charlotte Higgins being the latest) complaining that the cultural bureaucracy is somehow bringing arts and culture in this country to a nadir.

The opposite is in fact the case. Public spending on arts and culture has skyrocketed over the last decade. The Government has - quite rightly, in my view - put an emphasis on this money being spent efficiently and in delivering public good. This has led to the wholly exaggerated debate over "targets" and the self-defeating and meaningless debate over "intrinsic" versus "instrumental" value. It is the bureaucracy that secures efficiency and that public good against which the artists, critics and now ministers are turning their fire.

Dominic Cooke points out that even if the Tories don't turn out to be vicious cutters the slowing economy means that arts and culture cannot expect to receive the largess that they have come to expect, and whichever Government we have they are damn well going to want to see a return on their investment.

Artists should be careful about attacking the Arts Council and other cultural agencies - you might just get what you wish for.

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