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In March 2007, in one of his last-ditch attempts to define his legacy, Tony Blair gave a speech at Tate Modern. In it, he announced that his leadership would be regarded in history as a "golden age" for the arts in Britain. He was wrong. The fact that he chose to give the arts such prominence in a political speech should prove the point.

Under Mr Blair, the arts were taken all too seriously. The results have been dismaying. Artistic freedom has been compromised and the central body for the state funding of the arts, Arts Council England (ACE), the main successor of Maynard Keynes's post-war Arts Council of Great Britain, is in crisis, having lost the confidence of many of those it was designed to assist. In 2009, a straw poll among some key arts figures found the majority in favour of scrapping the Arts Council altogether and a minority in favour of radical surgery. No one felt it could remain as it was.

The arts world's disillusion is justified. The council is no longer the organisation it once was. Spending too much on administration, stripped of arts expertise and politically correct to a fault, it has been reformed to the point where it no longer works. It is time to abolish it altogether at national level.

Of course, the past 12 years have seen both artistic achievement and some exciting new galleries and concert halls, including the New Art Gallery Walsall and the Sage Gateshead. But the "golden age" has involved utter disasters at vast expense: the £15 million National Centre for Popular Music in Sheffield — insolvent within seven months of opening — and the £60 million "pink elephant" of Will Alsop's Public Gallery in West Bromwich, finally cut loose by the Arts Council earlier this year and described by Shadow Arts Minister Ed Vaizey as "the biggest arts scandal for decades".

Moreover, part of the myth of Blair's artistic golden age — that state funding was greatly increased under his aegis — is simply that: myth. John Major's contribution in creating the National Lottery was far more significant. Arts funding almost doubled between the financial years 1994-1995 and 1995-1996, thanks to boosted National Lottery income. Its level then remained roughly constant. Between 1996-1997 and 2006-2007, total Arts Council income from both the Lottery and direct state funding rose by just 2.6 per cent, from £575 million to £590 million.

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October 8th, 2009
7:10 PM
The effect of the Arts Council is quite loathsome where contemporary art is concerned. Massively subsidized exhibitions of approved art are put in in near empty galleries. In the regions, crawlers, hoping to get into Tate Modern etc, put on vacuous "cutting edge" art of precious little interest in London, & of no interest outside. It is a corrupt & fashion conscious world, worse than Communist approved art, which was, at least, well made.

Fabio P.Barbieri
August 25th, 2009
7:08 PM
Bullshit. We need to STOP - just stop - pouring public money of any kind into contemporary arts. No money to one artist or more; no nothing. If the State is to have a role in art, let it preserve and exhibit/perform the works of the past, which are always in danger of being outshouted and outspent by the commercial present; let it finance museums, archives, libraries, study centres, schools, concert series dedicated to the classics. Let it leave contemporary artists entirely alone. An artist must find a public. THE PUBLIC IS THE NECESSARY OTHER HALF OF THE WORK OF ART, because a work of art is a work of communication, and there must be someone at the other end to receive the communication. And let the public pay for it; paying one's own money is the physical demonstration that something has value to the person who pays, that they are willing to give something else in exchange. If the State takes over the role of public and payer, the whole purpose of art collapse. The State ought to hire artist only when it needs their work in the most practical, immediate way - public buildings and so on. That is what it did in Perikles' Athens and Lorenzo's Florence. To support "the arts" for their own sake is to support self-regarding parasitism, to support people who brag of their artisticness while they do not fulfil the most basic and fundamental of the roles of an artist - someone who communicates with a public. There are two artforms - both modern, both ill-regarded - which have never received one penny of state funding: popular music and comics. As a result, these are the areas where British creative artists have really shaken things up and produce work of great and worthwhile impact. And if you find that hard to believe, ask yourselves how many state-subsidized "artists" have had the worldwide impact of the Beatles or Alan Moore.

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