What 96% of us didn’t want has happened

There is still shock as we survey what happened last night, and the arts generally were unanimously for remain – 96% of the Creative Industries Federation members were in favour of staying in Europe. Most could not understand why a party leadership contest should be holding the nation’s economic, diplomatic and cultural future to ransom, but now we have to work out what it means and how to make the paying of that ransom work to our benefit.

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Switching on

There were upwards of 4,000 people in the building last night, they say, agog to see what it was that had cost £260m. It’s called the Switch House and it’s opening today, signalling, says Nick Serota, “a new era for modern and contemporary art in the UK”.

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A proper fit-up

Congratulations to HOME, a year old and flushed with success. What its creation and development shows is that the pragmatic approach not only allows cost saving in that duplication is eliminated, it allows an airing to new art through co-production, a collegiate approach and the realisation of a new audience that previously, perhaps, knew only what it didn’t like, and that was what they thought was being offered.

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Clearing political hurdles

Labour’s newish culture spokeswoman, the former professional cellist Thangam Debbonaire, has piped up to condemn her opposite number’s vaunted White Paper as “nothing new”, and the less niggardly than expected review settlement as a red herring to “distract from more damaging cuts to local government funding”, because councils' easiest resort for savings is their cultural budget.

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The tsars come out at night

It seemed like a rather clumsy lay-down for a not-very-funny side swipe at the previous mayor, who had a penchant for creating deputy mayors. “We were gonna have a night mayor – yeah, we really were” Sadiq Khan told the happy throng of arts pros gathered in City Hall on Wednesday night. “But in the end we decided on night tsar”. It turns that there actually is going to be a night tsar, “a champion for the night-time economy”, which is a “crucial part of London’s economy”.

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Kramer’s challenge

Harry Brunjes, chairman of English National Opera, says he hopes the appointment of its new artistic director marks a turning point in the company’s history, and I’m sure everyone else does too. The American Daniel Kramer is certainly a bold appointment that might signal a dramatic change in ENO’s offerings when his first season starts in 2018, but he needs to be able to make changes in less obvious ways too.

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BAC to the future

Whisper it who dares, but the fire that destroyed the Battersea Arts Centre’s Great Hall a year ago might have been a godsend. Think of it. By the time of the fire on Friday, March 13, the BAC was seven years into a £13m redevelopment process with the best in the business, Haworth Tompkins, having to think and rethink and rethink again how to make this 1890s town hall, with its grand halls, imposing atrium entrance and scattering of offices, fit for an arts centre of the 21st century that would be multi-purpose. It's not a very prestigious Victorian municipal building with a lot of architectural conceits and not a little gerryness in the building – the BAC’s chairman, Michael Day, also happens to be chief executive of Historic Royal Palaces (Tower of London, Hampton Court, Banqueting House etc) and more than once he must have thought as he gazed on rain-catching buckets and sparking electrical fittings “from the sublime to the bleeding ridiculous”.

The fire seems to have solved a lot of problems. The restrictions imposed by being a listed building (it was m,are Grade II* in 1970 largely to head off a demolition attempt by the local council) mean that there was a lot HT couldn’t do and things that it had to do but wouldn’t have chosen to. The fire removed a lot of those complications, so that the Great Hall that reopens in 2018 will have up-to-date acoustics, lighting, sightlines and ventilation and becomes a versatile asset – before the fire, switching its use from a concert venue to, say, a wedding reception space would take eight days and cost £10,000, which will become one day and £1,000.

The other benefit of the fire was that it focussed national attention on the BAC, so that on the weekend following the fire the impromptu Phoenix Fund the artistic director David Jubb launched realised more than £50,000 from nearly 1,750 individuals. The government then bunged in half a million, Battersea Power Station £100,000, there were fund-raising galas and a crowd-funding campaign, so that in nine months £1m had been realised. It was as if those who had been vaguely if approvingly aware of the BAC and what it does suddenly made a cause of it, and Jubb has been riding that wave adroitly.

There is something uncomfortably evangelical about the whole thing. On the stage this week as he announced what the BAC would be doing in the next year or so, Jubb had behind him on a screen the motto “>TO INSPIRE PEOPLE>TO TAKE CREATIVE RISKS>TO SHAPE THE FUTURE>”, a mission statement he had come up with on the day before the fire to enthuse his staff. It’s admirable but also awkwardly pious. 

So a little more than year after the disaster Jubb was able to announce a whole range of innovations and plans as well as developments of the Haworth Tompkins masterplan. This spring the BAC gets its brand new 300-seat open air courtyard theatre, a new partnership for touring with eight venues around the country, a commissioning fund (something Jubb has dreamed of since he came here 12 years ago), an enhancement of its creative business enterprise centre, the return of live music to a venue that hosted one of Time Out’s Greatest 100 Gigs Of All Time, the 1977 Jam concert. Last year the BAC absorbed the Wandsworth Museum, with displays and objects dotted about the place, and now the museum is to go out to Wandsworth’s schools, libraries and civic centres in cycle vans. And visiting performers can now stay in the BAC while their gigs are on, rent free, in former store rooms and offices converted to bedrooms by artists and charmingly furnished with whimsical junk.

Meanwhile, A Nation’s Theatre Festival, which Jubb and the BAC sparked with The Guardian, is on in 17 London venues, including this one, for April and May in which theatres form outside London have either brought their productions. 

This battered and scorched old building would never have had much soul when it was a town hall; it has now, and it’s local purpose has become a national initiative. 

 

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The local problem

He took his cue from the report the New Local Government Network has compiled for ACE which shows that while the local spend on arts and culture has gone down from £1.42bn in 2010 to £1.2bn last year, authorities still spend more than the Arts Council with a mere £700m, thanks to the 33% cuts.

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Bard to death? Not me

Strange thing, as we edge up to April 23 and the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death, that all this bardolatry – as the doyen of Bankside guides John Constable likes to call it - doesn’t seem to be palling. Commemorations so quickly get swamped in overkill that all you want to do is forget as quickly as possible and move on.

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ENO loses its last throw of the dice

Taking the risk of putting a business manager with no arts experience in charge was a bold one, and it hasn’t come off for ENO. With the loss of Mark Wigglesworth, the music director who has walked out after just six months because he couldn’t stand by and watch the programme decimated or the resident artists suffer, the gamble has also been lost.

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Grey paper

Wikipedia says a White Paper is “an authoritative report or guide that informs readers concisely about a complex issue and presents the issuing body's philosophy on the matter”. Infopedia says White Papers are “sales and marketing documents used to entice or persuade potential customers to learn more about or purchase a particular product, service, technology or methodology”. In the case of the Culture White Paper launched today, Jude Kelly calls it simply “a statement of belief”. So what is it?

It would be churlish not to recognize the achievement of producing such a document, and what it does is set out in black and, particularly, white that the government believes the arts and culture are fundamental to not just the economy but our collective well-being, so there’s philosophy; what it might be selling is the government’s cultural credibility. But Ed Vaizey, whose baby it is, has encapsulated the essence of change that is shoving our artistic endeavours around at the moment, a change he chooses not to credit to the funding storms that the government has assailed the arts with since 2010. There’s a new mood of enterprise, of philanthropy, of self-reliance that needs to be formally harnessed. 

So he is taking a lead by telling the arts to talk among themselves more, to co-operate, to get the ridiculous inconsistencies of what is called primly “diversity” – not enough black/female/young/homosexual leaders or even participants – corrected, to ensure that kids from poor backgrounds can have a chance of inspiration. He is standing up with the government and saying “This is what should be happening”, and he did well to get it out now given the extreme tightness of government schedules which meant that if he hadn’t managed it before Easter we might have had to wait until the autumn, or later. One very big arts panjandrum there this morning said in its favour that it was better to have had it than not to have had it.

What the White Paper does not do, and Vaizey might say isn’t supposed to do, is present either a stick or a carrot: no sanction for those that don’t adhere to this statement of belief, no financial encouragement either. As we kept being told today, this is the first White Paper since the very first in 1965 but brief as that was (ten pages, 200 paragraphs, Vaizey reminded us) it was accompanied by a considerable hike in arts subsidy and a new national brief for the Arts Council: there’s no new cash in these 68 pages. 

There is plenty in the White Paper that we already know about – the Great Exhibition of the North, City of Culture, £20m for doing up cathedrals – because they are Treasury initiatives already announced by George Osborne. The fact is that the kind of arts that happen in communities and tend to be run by local authorities make almost £6bn a year for this country, and Vaizey is having to find ways of relieving the local authority arts funding crisis without cash. So show willing, not your wallet.

Politics, I’m afraid. Another panjandrum pointed out to me that there is one British institution that more than any other commissions, produces, sells, exports the best of our culture, and in the course of it entertains and informs the entire nation, and it gets no mention anywhere in this document. It is, of course, the BBC. Now why ever would that be?

 

 

 

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Budget fudget

As ever, you have to look for the small print in the Budget to find out what it might mean to the arts, and on the face of it there’s nothing nasty in the woodpile this time. There’s £53m for the Royal College of Art’s new Battersea campus;  £20m for northern cities to bid to for hosting the Great Exhibition of the North, as promised in the autumn statement; £20m to do up our cathedrals, ditto; £19m for a new Shakespeare theatre at Knowsley on Merseyside;  £14m for the STEAMhouse in Birmingham; £13m for Hull for its year as City of Culture next year; £5m for the V&A’s £81m Dundee design museum. 

There are tax breaks for museums, with regional ones that don’t charge for admission eligible for VAT rebates like the nationals are, and touring exhibitions will get the same concession. 

And then it starts to get foggy. The Lloyd George Museum at Criccieth in North Wales, the great man’s birthplace, is funded by the local authority which, in its straits, had opted to cut its grant and probably close it. So the Chancellor has decided to give the museum the same amount, £27,000. Nothing for the five Lancashire museums that are closing or any of the others under threat by beleaguered councils. 

Why single that one out for special treatment? We can only guess, but this rather paltry amount should keep the place open until 2020, by which time we will have forgotten the centenary of the First World War. It would be an international embarrassment to see the closure now of the place devoted to the memory of the leader that saw us through that most catastrophic of conflicts. There was already encouraging news in that there had been a move to get the place nationalised and the Welsh government is thinking about making it part of the National Museum of Wales. Yet George Osborne felt it was politic to put his paddle in and stir it up a bit.

But the Chancellor’s fiddling about with business rate relief for small concerns means that local authorities, which with the other hand he has given the right to retain business rate income, means that councils will be, by the calculation of John Kampfner’s Creative Industries Federation, £7bn worse off. And what is the non-statutory responsibility local authorities have that is easiest to cut?  You got it.

Which makes Ed Vaizey’s culture white paper, due this spring, even more interesting. He has said there would be something to address the conundrum of local authority arts funding so one hopes it will show how these odd bits of a jigsaw puzzle might fit together, and though Vaizey has said that in parliamentary terms spring lasts from about February to October, the word is that publication is imminent. We’ll see.

 

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Taitmail: Budget fudget

As ever, you have to look for the small print in the Budget to find out what it might mean to the arts, and on the face of it there’s nothing nasty in the woodpile this time. There’s £53m for the Royal College of Art’s new Battersea campus;  £20m for northern cities to bid to for hosting the Great Exhibition of the North, as promised in the autumn statement; £20m to do up our cathedrals, ditto; £19m for a new Shakespeare theatre at Knowsley on Merseyside;  £14m for the STEAMhouse in Birmingham; £13m for Hull for its year as City of Culture next year; £5m for the V&A’s £81m Dundee design museum. 

There are tax breaks for museums, with regional ones that don’t charge for admission eligible for VAT rebates like the nationals are, and touring exhibitions will get the same concession. 

And then it starts to get foggy. The Lloyd George Museum at Criccieth in North Wales, the great man’s birthplace, is funded by the local authority which, in its straits, had opted to cut its grant and probably close it. So the Chancellor has decided to give the museum the same amount, £27,000. Nothing for the five Lancashire museums that are closing or any of the others under threat by beleaguered councils. 

Why single that one out for special treatment? We can only guess, but this rather paltry amount should keep the place open until 2020, by which time we will have forgotten the centenary of the First World War. It would be an international embarrassment to see the closure now of the place devoted to the memory of the leader that saw us through that most catastrophic of conflicts. There was already encouraging news in that there had been a move to get the place nationalised and the Welsh government is thinking about making it part of the National Museum of Wales. Yet George Osborne felt it was politic to put his paddle in and stir it up a bit.

But the Chancellor’s fiddling about with business rate relief for small concerns means that local authorities, which with the other hand he has given the right to retain business rate income, means that councils will be, by the calculation of John Kampfner’s Creative Industries Federation, £7bn worse off. And what is the non-statutory responsibility local authorities have that is easiest to cut?  You got it.

Which makes Ed Vaizey’s culture white paper, due this spring, even more interesting. He has said there would be something to address the conundrum of local authority arts funding so one hopes it will show how these odd bits of a jigsaw puzzle might fit together, and though Vaizey has said that in parliamentary terms spring lasts from about February to October, the word is that publication is imminent. We’ll see.

 

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Goosey, goosey – gone?

More wonderful news from DCMS which reports, in the government’s first full analysis of its kind of the economic data, that in 2014 our creative industries grew by 8.9% - almost twice the rate of the UK economy - to be worth now £84.bn in gross value added (GVA) instead of the £76.9bn of the year before.

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