The Stage, 8/6/2014
The English National Opera artistic director’s bold, contemporary programming has divided audiences, but he seems to have steered the ENO through the 2011 financial crisis. He tells Simon Tait about th company’s plans for commercial partnerships and a new relationship with the public, and why surviving cancer has made him unafraid of risk
For John Berry, English National Opera’s artistic director, the microcosm of the surreal switchback ride ENO has been on for the last couple of decades and more came on a balmy spring evening in 2012 at the Royal Opera House when the company picked up three Olivier Awards for the previous season.
“What you didn’t know then was that we’d had a real blip,” he says. “The arts council grant was down, the economy was tricky, box office was tough, a whole series of issues came together in 2011, and it was the very season when we won the Olivier for ‘outstanding achievement in opera for breadth and diversity of work’”.
It was very the season for which the company recorded a season deficit of £2.2m. “It’s an opera, really, isn’t it?” he says.
That switchback ride seems to have been up on artistic highs like that season’s Castor and Pollux to financial crises when the arts council – whose grant, though reduced, is still worth half the ENO annual turnover – has had to bale it out.
There will be no more bale-outs, Berry says unequivocally, the fairground ride has stopped. The loss of 2011 was cancelled not by ACE but by using reserves the company had decided to build up, and for last season will show a surplus of £200,000-plus. In April he announced a season as risky as any, but also a development programme that will change its business plan and the public’s relationship with the company.
Next year John Berry will celebrate 20 years at ENO and he is credited with the contemporary programming that has delighted and sometimes horrified audiences, which has brought new people to the Coliseum, ENO’s home, and kept traditional opera lovers away. He has been called both reckless and inspired, and he is presiding over the company’s biggest changes since Lilian Baylis created it 83 years ago.
At 24 John Berry was a promising clarinet player who had won one of just two scholarships to study the instrument at the Royal Northern College of Music (he was born in Lancashire and grew up in Cheshire) who had gone on to New York to study with Gervase de Peyer. He had been feeling unwell for some time and went for a check up. “The doctor said, ‘I hope it’s TB’”.
He returned to Manchester, went from the airport straight to Christie’s Hospital and found that it wasn’t TB but Hodgkin’s Disease, usually fatal then, and that the cancer had spread to his chest. Through 1985 and 1986, under the care of the pioneering oncologist Derek Crowther, he underwent operations, chemo and radiotherapy which failed, he had two treatments that failed he was given an experimental combination therapy not then used in this country. The tumour began to respond and by 1986 was gone. It has never returned.
His lungs damaged, however, his playing career was over and he launched into a different career, setting up a series of music schools in Cheshire, called Sounds Alive, with 500 pupils. “The cancer changed me, changed everything,” he says.
At the RNCM he had been captivated by the voice, with some of his classmates being a generation of great singers including Jane Eaglen, Clive Bayley and Barry Banks. In 1990 he founded the Brereton International Symposium masterclasses in Cheshire, sponsored by Jerwood, to which he brought stars such as Birgit Nilsson, Thomas Hampson, Renata Scotto and Brigitte Fassbaender. “When you’re as naïve as I was you don’t think about writing to someone like Nilsson, but she rang back and said she’d love to come – because it was private. Tom Hampson has become a life-long friend”.
He became a singers’ agent, an advisor to the Royal College of Music and the Hallé Orchestra and a consultant on BBC and Channel 4 opera film projects, but was still running his summer school when he joined ENO as casting director in 1995. He arrived on the cusp of the change between Dennis Marks, who hired him, and Nicholas Payne –still a friend and mentor – as ENO directors and rode the controversial three year reign of Sean Doran before the arrival of Loretta Tomasi as chief executive, a new title. By then Berry, now 52, had risen through director of opera planning to become, in 2005, artistic director.
“Under Loretta and me there has been no bale out. There were good years and not so good years when those reserves have been a fantastic foundation for us to make important decisions,” he says now.
Last December Tomasi stood down to return to her native Australia and with an interim management team and a new chairman, Martyn Rose, replacing Peter Bazalgette who had been appointed chairman of the Arts Council, Berry devised ENO’s future.
He had laid the foundations not only by creating a safety net with reserves saved from the good times, but by building a network of co-production partnerships across the world. There are 40, the first having been with the Metropolitan Opera House in New York. The recent Thebans, Julian Anderson’s first opera, which Berry knew he wanted to do four years ago, could not have been possible if Bonn Opera hadn’t paid for and built the set in exchange for David Alden’s ENO production of Lucia di Lammermore. “It saved us half a million,” Berry says. “Our international connections are so extensive now that if I say I want to do something, I know we can raise the money for it”.
Terry Gilliam’s production of Berlioz’s Benvenuto Cellini that opens on June 17 is one of the most ambitious projects of recent years, Berry says: “It has to be good”.
The 2014-15 programme has all the chutzpah that has been associated with Berry, with 11 new productions. Richard Jones, always controversial but particularly recently for his Glyndebourne production of Rigoletto, will direct The Mastersingers of Nuremburg; the enfant terrible of opera directors, Peter Sellars, returns with the world staged premiers of John Adams’s “The Gospel According to the Other Mary, and the first fully staged production of Purcell’s 1695 opera The Indian Queen; two young British composers get world premiers; the film director Mike Leigh will do Pirates of Penzance, his first ever opera; there will be a new partnership with the Bristol Old Vic for a production of Monteverdi’s Orfeo.
Underneath the headline riskiness, though, is sound support in the programme, he says. Pirates of Penzance by Leigh will be extremely popular and there will be plenty of performances; there will be revivals of bankers like Carmen, La Traviata, The Marriage of Figaro, Jonathan Miller’s La Bohème. “There were probably two seasons where I programmed too much contemporary rep, too much rep that was edgy,” Berry admits. “This season and the next season it feels more balanced in an economy that’s still a bit jumpy in an art form that’s still finding it’s feet, so I think I’m actually being sensible”. His target is to raise £3m next year and he has identified 75% of it.
But the strike for independence is in the planning for the further future rather than the next season. The big announcement was the plan for a new production centre, site as yet unknown, which will cost a modest £10m and for which Berry believes he has enough of a promise from supporters to ensure it will be open by the end of 2016, while the company is using five or six different venues around London to rehearse. It will save ENO £1m a year.
He has made a deal with the West End producers Michael Grade and Michael Linnit to create musical theatre that they will fund with the ENO singers and orchestra, taking back some of the 17 weeks a year when the Coliseum is hired out, and which will transfer to other theatres after the initial Coliseum run. A potential profit of millions beckoning. New audiences will continue to be probed for through keeping ticket prices affordable and schemes like Undress Nights when first tickets are available at £25, and by an expanding database.
The Coliseum itself, which ENO now owns, is to open out. Until now closed to the public except when a production is under way, Berry is going into partnership with a restaurateur (as yet unnamed) to provide a restaurant, a foyer café and bars that will be open all day and, as a by-product, contribute to the wider database.
Because of arts council policy ENO cannot tour in England, so that productions like Anthony Minghella’s famous Madame Butterfly is still being enjoyed by audiences around the world but has never been seen in an English theatre other than the Coliseum. So Berry has made another partnership AltiveMedia to take filmed productions to 400 cinemas, as well as making pro-productions with the Barbican, the Young Vic and now the Bristol Old Vic.
Berry has a new partner in Henriette Götz who has arrived from Belgium as executive director, with a reputation for fundraising and commercial acumen in a creative environment.
And although the “transformation”, as Berry calls it, is towards a new independence as the expectation is for a further substantial reduction in the arts council grant when it is announced in July, ACE will still be important. Berry says ACE has available for the whole of England less than there is for the city of Berlin. “They’re under huge pressure, but money from the arts council has to be seen as a springboard for us to really be ambitious and excel with bringing money in from outside of the public funded circle. We are showing we can do that,” Berry says.
“I think what we’re showing is that we can increase what we want to do by getting commercial partners to take some of the risk. Opening the Colly won’t make us a lot of money, but it will change our relationship with the public completely.
“We’re going to be more efficient, have more work, give better public value and we’re going to try and create here a model that is an opera house for the future.”
John Berry box outs
1. Born in Bolton, Lancashire, 1961
2. Trained as a clarinet player, Royal Northern College of Music
3. Landmark production would be Anthony Minghella’s Madame Butterfly of 2005, the highest grossing production in ENO history
4. I’ve never received an award apart from on behalf of ENO
5. First job: Probably working for Harrison Parrott – I was self employed before that
6. Next job: I wouldn’t want to run another opera house unless it was a really exceptional offer, I want to get on with the exciting future there is here
7. Biggest influence: There have been three – Nicholas Payne, former director of ENO now director of Europa Opera; Gerard Mortier, the Belgian opera director; Matthew Epstein, a doyen in artists’ management for singers.
8. What would you have been? Nothing. I began playing the clarinet at 12 and have never had to think about what I do since.
9. Do you have any superstitions? No, when you’ve had a near death experience superstition is the last thing you need. I’m just glad I can stand up every morning which for a long time I couldn’t.
The TImes, 19/5/2014
By Simon Tait
It reads like a Dan Brown novel. In the year 716 a Saxon abbot, near the end of his life, decides to take one of the most beautiful books ever made from Jarrow in Northumberland to Rome as a gift for Pope Gregory II. Half way, at Langres in France, he dies but some of his companions decide to continue the pilgrimage on his behalf. They get within 100 miles of their destination, rest at the Gregorian abbey of San Salvatore at Monte Amiata in southern Tuscany, and mysteriously they all die there before they can deliver the book.
The book, now known as the Codex Amiatinus after the Tuscan town, remained at the abbey for the next 1000 years, but its ghost in the form of a perfect facsimile returns to Jarrow this weekend.
Codex Amiatinus is the oldest surviving Latin Vulgate bible, the 4th translation by St Jerome that became the official version for the Roman Catholic Church. But it was crafted by the Venerable Bede and his fellow Jarrow-Wearmouth monks over about 24 years to fulfill a commission from their abbot, Ceolfrith. Of the three that were made then, one was destroyed by fire and of the second only a single page survives and is in the British Library.
The Codex stayed at San Salvatore until the mid 18th century when it was removed to the Biblioteca Laurenziana in Florence, where it remains under lock and key, too fragile to be seen by anyone.
But bible is at last coming home to Jarrow in the shape of a facsimile created for Amiata by special licence with the help of Biblioteca scholars. An exhibition around it, Bede’s Great Bible, opens on Sunday (May 18) at Bede’s World, the museum built a few yards from the site of Bede’s monastery, running until September 21.
The facsimile was made to mark the Millennium in 2000 by a team led by Dr Manuela Vestri, a native of Amiata. “This book is the root of our knowledge about the Bible” she said. “I have spent the greatest part of my life following this manuscript, it is good that it comes home in this way.”
Composed of 1029 pages, measuring 540mm by 345mm and weighing 50 kilos, it was an enormous mission to carry it safely across the known world. The Codex was written by at least seven scribes, one of whom would have been Bede, the most gifted scholar of the age. Bede himself was in his 30s and 40s when the bible was made and at the height of his powers, but his fame was yet to spread overseas with his most famous work, An Ecclesiastical History of the English People, written in about 731 when he was about 60. By then he was venerated across Europe, and though he spoke several modern languages he never himself travelled further from Jarrow than York. He died in 735.
Written on the finest Pergamon vellum, it is illuminated by brilliant miniature paintings, the most accomplished of which is probably the one portraying Ezra copying the Holy Scriptures in an echo, perhaps, of Bede himself at work on the bible. Having arrived at Amiata, the huge volume was kept in the abbey’s reliquary cupboard until 1782 and the suppression of the monasteries when it was confiscated and given to the Laurentian Library in Florence.
It took a year to for Dr Vestri’s La Meta Editore team of 20, the original being carefully unbounded and each page photographed in the highest resolution, transferred to vellum leaves and the facsimile assembled in the way the original had been, with four leather strings, and then bound in leather-clad wooden boards.
To help pay for the year-long operation, permission was given for 199 half-size copies to be made and sold, one of which was bought for Durham University. Only one full-size facsimile has ever been made, however, but it is hoped that the exhibition will help raise the £40,000 needed to commission a second for Bede’s World.
The museum was created in the 1970s to evoke the life of Bede and the Anglo-Saxon world of the 7th and 8th centuries in which he lived as an educational resource. The loan of the Codex facsimile is part of a new friendship agreement between the museum and Amiata, where a museum is being built to mirror Bede’s World. “There is a resurgent interest in Bede and for the museum,” said the Bede’s World director Mike Benson. “It’s exactly the right time for Bede’s bible to come home with the help of our new friends in Tuscany. The medieval world becomes larger for us with co-operation like this”.
Michael Graeme Compton, CBE, contemporary art curator and administrator, was born on September 29, 1927. He died on July 12, 2013, aged 85.
Pioneering director at the Tate who tried to involve the public in contemporary art – sometimes with alarming results
Michael Compton’s philosophy was that a contemporary art gallery was like a party where the guests do not know eachother very well, and the curator’s task was to introduce the public to the art and help them find something in common. “You hope that a sort of conversation develops”, he said, and as the Tate Gallery’s first Keeper of Exhibitions and Education he helped change the way the world was shown and therefore saw contemporary art.
His mission almost came horribly unstuck in 1971, however, when an exhibition that Compton curated with the critic David Sylvester of the work of the minimalist and conceptualist Robert Morris had to be closed three days after it opened when several people had been injured. The exhibition was an early experiment in participation in which the Duveen Galleries at what is now Tate Britain were transformed into a kind of adults’ adventure playground with huge installations including beams, weights, platforms, rollers, tunnels and ramps made from recyclable material such as scrap metal and plywood, on which they pushed, pulled, climbed and leaped. First aiders had to deal with splinters and sprains and minor cuts when visitors became “over-exuberant” – an ambulance was even called – and Compton was obliged to close it for fear of worse injuries. “I really ought to have been sacked for it”, he said. “I personally had completely miscalculated the response of the public. I was just utterly wrong”.
But what he had proved against others’ expectations was that the public can and will respond to contemporary art, and far from sacking him the Tate’s director, Sir Norman Reid, merely made Compton write a report on what had happened which Reid himself signed and presented to the trustees. Compton heard no more about it, and the exhibition was successfully recreated at Tate Modern with more user-friendly materials for a Bank Holiday weekend in 2009 as bodyspacemotionthings.
In fact Compton, who has died at the age of 85 of congestive heart failure, was one of the architects of the modern Tate, creating both an exhibitions department and an education department for the first time, and championing contemporary concepts of art such as minimalism, pop art and conceptualism.
Michael Graeme Compton was born in 1927, the son of a locomotive engineer stationed in India where Michael and his brother Christopher spent much of their early lives. He began training as naval architect in Glasgow, but dropped out of his course to study philosophy. He discovered art history and, after a few months spent “going to the theatre and drinking in Soho”, studied at the Courtauld Institute. After graduating and while waiting fror a curatorial post, he dabbled in publishing, his wife’s family business – he had married Susan Benn in 1952 – and in 1954 went to work at Leeds City Art Gallery, cataloguing watercolours. He then moved to the Walker Art Gallery in Liverpool for two years.
In 1960, aged 32, he became director of the Ferens Art Gallery in Hull which had a generous endowment allowing him to do what he believed to be a curator’s vocation, to create collections, and he never had a purchase request turned down. It came as shock when he arrived at the Tate in 1965 as assistant keeper of modern art, under Ronald Alley, to find that curators would put up ten works of art a month to the trustees for purchase and would be allowed to buy only two or three of them a year.
Compton had been put nominally in charge of the Tate’s library and education activities, education being largely gallery talks by curators and guest speakers. Other national and major regional museums, such as the V&A, had small education departments, but he saw these institutions as having been set up to be didactic while the Tate was distinctly created as a collection whose proselytising would have to be unique. There were some star lecturers, including Lawrence Alloway, who invented the term “pop art”, Alan Bowness, the future director of the Tate, and Laurence Bradbury, who had his own shoal of lady groupies that attended every performance.
Compton went on a tour of the United States partly to explore developments among artists, but mostly to find out how education was tackled in public galleries there. He found that “docents” – art-educated enthusiastic volunteer teachers – were widely used, and imported the idea to the Tate for which he recruited 24, almost all women, working directly with works of art.
In the late 60s he and the painter and teacher Lawrence Gowing were asked to prepare a new layout for the Tate, and they agreed that what was needed was a dedicated exhibitions department – the Tate mounted few of its own temporary exhibitions then, leaving that to the Arts Council which put on up to five a year before moving on to the new Hayward Gallery – and an education department because, they believed, the Tate was a collection that needed to be explored by both cognoscenti and the less well-informed, which included schoolchildren. Their proposal was accepted by the trustees and in 1970 Compton found himself in the new role of Keeper of Exhibitions and Education, two sub-departments that he had to invent. His title was later changed to Keeper of Museum Services, ”which people thought very funny because they associated it with toilets”, he said. He remained a curator at heart, though, and in 1980 curated the exhibition devoted to Marcel Broodthaers, the Belgian poet, photographer, film-maker and artist, ansd frepeated the exhibition in Minneapolis in 1989.
In making his contribution to the planning for the Tate extension, which opened in 1979, he found existing plans were purely architectural; he felt that no consideration had been given to the visitors that would use it, and had studies made of the habits of gallery-goers (he was fascinated to find that British visitors tend instinctively to go left on entering an exhibition and walk clockwise around a gallery while non-British viewers go the other way), and he had his findings incorporated into the gallery design. He even included a space where artists could create site-specific work, a new notion now at the heart of Tate Modern on a much grander scale in the Turbine Hall.
“Michael Compton was arguably the first curator working in England to command international respect for his practice as a maker of exhibitions, collaborator with artists and contributor to the discourse of contemporary art,” said Sir Nicholas Serota, director of Tate. “In the 70s and 80s he was a part of the growing exchange of ideas and exhibitions between England and continental Europe and he can now be regarded as a model for many of today’s curators”.
Michael Compton retired in 1987 and was created a CBE in the same year. He is survived by his wife, Sue; daughters Jo, an education consultant, and Ann, the art historian; three grandchildren and one great-granddaughter.
To make the case for more funding and to achieve a more equitable distribution of subsidy, there needs to be agreement abourt how we can bets quantify the arts’ contribution to the UK economy, writes Simon Tait
The famous remark, “There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies and statistics”, has surfaced often in the last weeks, particularly in relation to the divide in public funding and the arts between London and the regions, but who actually first coined it?
It is always attributed to Mark Twain, yet in his autobiography he counter-attributes it to Benjamin Disraeli. Then again, it might have been parliamentary essayist Walter Bagehot, the Tory prime minister Arthur Balfour, a radical journalist called Henry Du Pré Labouchére, or maybe a one-time president of the Royal Statistical Society, Leonard Courtney. So even the most famous quote about statistics is actually unverifiable.
It is hardly surprising, therefore, that statistics themselves so often have a murky background, and when we try to wheel out figures to support a thesis we so often find them trundling back at us. We might believe we lead the world in practically every aspect of the arts, but can we actually prove it?
The mathematical range of the inequality of the Arts Council England’s subsidy to artists and arts organisations in and outside the capital has been more of a dispute than the fact of the inequality. Nobody is claiming that the London doesn’t deserve to have a bigger share than any other city because, unlike most other capitals, it is the centre as far as the cultural economy goes. The tourist dollar is spent more in London than anywhere else in England, not only on the theatres, concert halls and museums foreigners come here to see, but on the multiplier outlets they also need – hotels, restaurants, transport.
By how much, and by how much it is supported by the taxpayer, depends on who you ask and the same goes for pretty much any aspect of the arts council’s latest report. The arts are worth – ooh, lots to the economy, but is that in terms of Gross National Product, Gross Value Added, Gross Domestic Product?
The truth is that there is no more reliable data than there are reliable attributions of that deathless quote.
In its latest report, produced only last Friday, the arts council bemoans the lack of accurate material to call on: “While there is a considerable body of research literature, there are also many gaps,” it says, so this autumn ACE is going to fund yet more research literature with a new grants programme that invites “arts and cultural organisations, higher education institutions, consultants, think tanks, foundations and trusts”, so everybody really, to show how they would improve the data base. More statistics.
The problem, as plenty have pointed out, isn’t the amount of material but the reliable nature and retrievability of what there is.
Liz Hill in Arts Professional has gone through the previous ACE report, This England, which is its response to the Commons Select Committee’s call for information on the geographical funding divide, and picked out how information has been massaged to, for instance, diminish ACE’s position as the largest funder of the arts in England (by leaving out its lottery money), how percentages are used to create an impression when the actual figures would tell a different story (as in touring), and the issue of phrases like “core cities” – is Cambridge one, she would like to know, with a population of only 134,000? The arts council might say that population size is not as important as what happens there to bring in audiences from outside or that can germinate for wider use.
But context is everything, as Roger Tomlinson points out in his most recent blog, and the arts council have consistently been underfunded for what it is expected to do and is currently trying to ride a cut since 2011 of 42% with more to come, while the traditionally larger sponsors of the arts – leaving out the lottery – are local authorities whose budgets have been decimated by the government.
In This England and in Friday’s “evidence review” of “The value of arts and culture to people” the arts council tries to steer consideration away from the numbers and to the feel of the thing. In his forward chairman Peter Bazalgette writes “When we talk about the value of the arts and culture, we should always start with the intrinsic – how arts and culture illuminate our inner lives and enrich our emotional world”. The problem is, the Treasury makes the decisions these days and does not think in terms of emotional world; it deals with the economy, so what the subsidisers need to know is what the arts are worth in hard cash. And that’s not easy to do, either.
At the end of last year UK Music, the umbrella body for the music industry, was able to produce a report which showed for the first time how much music is worth to the economy, but they had to do it by compiling their own statistics and not relying on existing Office for National Statistics (ONS) figures which even the Culture Department has conceded don’t allow the contribution of music to be seen as a separate category, only as an element of the cultural input. So UK Music’s CEO Jo Dipple has launched a campaign to get these international codes revised.
“If the UK wants to retain our world-leading status, we need accurate data upon which to base public policy and business decisions,” Dipple tells Arts Industry magazine this week. “The best way for us to achieve this is to secure international agreement for a new set of codes that better captures the music industry.”
The same can be said for the rest of our world-beating arts.
A recent report claimed that Arts Council The Stage 28/11/2013
England heavily skews its funding rowards London. But is the sotuation as clear cut as it seems? Simon Tait questions some of the assertions made
It came as a shock, seized as it was by the BBC’s arts editor Will Gompertz and thrust on to the Today Programme – in violation, it might be added, of the embargo which was for four hours later – and telling us that arts subsidy is so out of kilter that Londoners, per capita, are getting 15 times what those living in the region are.
The report, Rebalancing Our Cultural Capital: A contribution to the debate on national policy for the arts and culture in England, aims show that the arts council’s distribution is heavily weighted on the capital. It is written by three very eminent arts administrators who, separately and sometimes together, have been involved with the arts especially n the regions, since the dark days of the 1980s.
They write from experience. It celebrates 50 years since Jennie Lee, the first arts minister, published her white paper, A Policy for the Arts: The First Steps, which said: “If the eager and gifted, to whom we must look for leadership in every field, are to feel as much at home in the north and west as in and near London, each region will require high points of artistic excellence”. They counter it with a quote from David Cameron from just last month: This country has been too London-centric for far too long”.
The report is a fine polemic, but is it a reliable factual report?
The dramatic statistic tells us that while the average arts spend per head by ACE in 2012/13 was £14.51, but within that the average spend per Londoner is £68.99 while for the rest of England it’s a mere £4.58.
But the local authority spend in the mix is missing, and at least one London council has declared that all its arts subsidy is being scrapped; others are cutting dramatically.
And of the money spent in London, a large proportion goes to the national companies based there – where else would they be? Butt he National Theatre tours the regions constantly, the Tate has branches in Liverpool and St Ives, the four great symphony orchestras the capital boasts have residences in regions for parts of each season as well as touring, all activities at least partly paid for from the London column in the accounts book.
Sponsorship, too, is focussed more on London than anywhere else. Some analyses of individual giving put it at 90% going to London, but there is a fog around what is individual giving and what the real sources of the gifts are. Some reckoning lumps all private support under the word “philanthropy”, and this report puts private support of all sorts for the arts at 82% quoted most recently by Arts & Business for 2011/12. The arts council puts it at more like 65%.
So there are grey areas in assessing the grey area of private funding. The surge towards philanthropy as opposed to business support puts an emphasis on individual giving, but that is often difficult to assess: many thousands of pounds are left in the donation boxes in the foyers of every major museum, and the regions now are blessed with many major museums. Is that counted? All arts organisations around the country rely more and more on volunteers – the new archive centre in Sussex, The Keep, opening on November 19 has thousands of calico bags for its ancient maps made by Women’s Institute members for nothing– which is not assimilated into any of this.
“We observe that new public sector support to encourage philanthropic giving could exacerbate rather than ameliorate the situation with £18.5m (61%) of the first £30.5m of arts endowment funding under the Catalyst Programme going to London,” the writers say. It could, but another analyst could observe that it equally might not.
Pragmatic reports are not observation tolerant, and this observation betrays a bias which does its cause no favours. For it is as true now as it was in 1965 that there is an imbalance of funding in the regions compared with London, but it is to be expected. London is a one of perhaps half a dozen world cities and is a place where arts lovers come for the cultural offer. The report shows that while 14% of visitors to the US go to New York, 12% of those that go to France spend time in Paris and 10% of tourists in Germany go to Berlin, in the UK 48% of visitors spend time in London, such is the importance of the international offer in the capital compared with the regions. And London is becoming increasingly important worldwide as a cultural centre: Alistair Spalding of Sadler’s Wells says that his theatre has seen audiences for contemporary dance double there in ten years, and that New York and Paris have ceded their positions as the centre for world dance to London.
There is undoubtedly too little of attention paid to the regions, even within the arts community. In the recent trawl for a successor to Nicholas Hytner at the National Theatre, a director who has never run a building and never worked much in the regions has been appointed. How interesting it would have been if someone nurtured in the regions with, nevertheless, and international reputation – Jonathan Church at Chichester, for instance, or Tom Morris at Bristol, neither of whom was interviewed.
The paper has a solution, in a new five year National Investment Programme to support the arts outside London with the emphasis away from the blessed south, south-east and east of England. It would be worth £120m drawn from the National Lottery.
In those terms, it’s simple. In real terms, it is extremely complicated, because of other elements such as local authority funding. The arts council, which is given credit in the report for positively trying to even things up but is castigated for not having followed up properly, is at present working on a complex series of partnerships with local authorities of different dimensions – county, city, town and borough – to keep money flowing to local and regional cultural operations. It is a process over-complicated by changes to local authority funding, political interference at local level and by the mercurial nature of private funding.