A right(-wing) laugh

The biggest laugh I’ve had lately has come from the latest paper from the Adam Smith Institute, ‘Arts Funding: A New Approach’. Apart from the hilarious content, the whole thing reveals in the starkest possible way how totally out of touch the organisation, and presumably therefore the extreme right wing in this country, really  is. The author, David Rawcliffe, comes out fighting:

“The arguments for [arts] subsidy are weak, and in the mind of the author government should end all public support for the arts.”

But even he has to admit:

“However, subsidies enjoy widespread and entrenched support in the bureaucracy, in the media, in the government, in the opposition, and among the public.”

Poor grumpy bunny.

I have two main beefs with what he writes.

1) He doesn’t acknowledge the full range of the impact which the arts and culture has, citing only five ‘positive externalities’ (yes, really). They are: national pride, legacy, artistic innovation, education and tourism. The launch of the Cultural Capital Manifesto today ought to put him right on that. His complete ignorance of the arts in health, regeneration, training, prisons etc., marks him out as a bit of a chump, and an ill-informed one at that.

2) His absolutely priceless suggestion that instead of subsidising the arts, the country ought to give out yearly vouchers to all citizens (“of approximately £11 if current funding levels”), which they could then spend on events put on by “a list of approved arts producers” reveals yet more ignorance of the way the arts and culture works. Not every arts experience involves a financial transaction between creator and audience. Yet somehow, they happen without anyone buying any tickets. Public art is an example – would these vouchers be redeemable against putting up a statue in your town square? Street art is another, as is the world of the arts education project. How can he not see that putting all those £11s together and creating something much greater, deeper and more wide-ranging is a better offer? I’m blest if I know.

Funniest of all is his contention that this scheme will solve every current ‘problem’ (his definition of course) in the arts world today.

“After initial set-up, the administrative costs would be limited to the yearly distribution of vouchers, maintenance of a list of approved arts producers, and redemption of vouchers. This would likely total less than the complex decisionmaking processes required by the current system.”

He can’t have read this out loud to himself, or he would realise just how utterly totalitarian the phrase ‘approved arts producers’ sounds.

Anyway, read it for yourselves and have a good chuckle. Goodness knows we need a bit of light relief before election fever takes hold.

PS: I’ve just noticed that the Adam Smith website carries the tag: ‘Europe’s favourite think tank website’. Isn’t that lovely? And I’m sure it’s true – it’s definitely MY fave this week.

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Published in: on March 25, 2010 at 11:37  Comments (4)  

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4 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Lordy Lor. I really hope someone takes him up on how to ‘approve’ arts organisations. I wonder how many arts organisations would actually LIKE to be ‘approved’ … almost want it to happen to watch the subsequent taking to the streets/airwaves/twittersphere/blogosphere/letters pages that would ensue. Thanks Lady Eff.

  2. What he also fails to notice is that some areas of the arts actually make money for this country. The Royal Shakespeare Company may require subsidy at home but their tours abroad make a profit ( that says something doesn’t it?). Also money made by films like Slumdog Millionaire is very very substantial. Another point is that 1 in 5 jobs in the South East is now in the creative industries and turnover there in 2007 was 72 billion pounds – quite a contribution to the economy.All governments subsidise the arts. If Britain didn’t they would go elsewhere. Why don’t people understand simple economics? I don’t expect idiots like him to understand the finer side of life, but I do expect understaning of basic sums, but then maybe not if you are an upper class twit of the year.

    • Thanks Rosemary. I’ll blog soon on the Cultural Capital Manifesto which points out some of the same points as you do – and it’s also worth saying that the arts pays back more in VAT than it gets in subsidy, so we’re a net contributor from the word go.

  3. It’s probably not the done thing to comment on one’s own blog, but my friend Diogenes wrote the following in an email and as he just WON’T comment on blogs, I’m doing it for him.

    “Wow! Vouchers – now there’s a really fresh idea that’s never been tried or discussed before. Somebody wake up Sir Alan Peacock and the ghost of Northern Arts past, please. They tried it once – it didn’t work, of course.”


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