Thursday, April 26, 2007

Arts: I'm sick to death of meddling philistines

An opinionated article in the London Times by Sir John Tusa, the managing director of the Barbican Centre: I’m sick to death of meddling philistines: Government arts policy is forged by ignorant bureaucrats and posturing barbarians, writes the furious Barbican chief
I’m sick to death, too, with justifying the arts as if there was something specially problematical about doing so, as if funding the arts is irrational or even unnatural. Thinking about the arts, judging their value, explaining particular trends in the arts — this is an essential part of a human activity that takes itself seriously. What is a waste of time is being required to justify the arts as if millennia of arts activity required justifying anew, as if a failure to justify them could — or should — lead to the end of the activity altogether.
Arts policymakers judge the education and outreach programme of a major arts institution not by whether it is of high quality and raises the creative awareness of the children it is aimed at, but only whether it is directed at socially targeted groups such as refugees or the socially marginalised.
Valuable as such activity may be, it is far from clear why an education programme dedicated to developing creative understanding in the broadest sense should be limited and defined in this way. Such may well be the priorities of social welfare departments. Why are they the priorities of arts policy-makers? The only possible answer can be that the arts policymakers themselves do not believe in the value of excellence of the arts as such and on their own.