Interlude: short rant

18 May 2010

“Culture is on the back-burner, hardly mentioned in the first agreement between the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats”

I’ve just got off the phone to a writer/editor friend of mine to pick his brains about arts funding, a subject on which he, unlike a lot of pen-pushers pussyfooting around cultural policy today, is not afraid to get radical or medieval -- whatever the institutional situation requires. We spend most of it bemoaning the lack of serious investigation into and discussion on the way money has been poured or trickled into arts organisations and what they have done with it, as a means of understanding how they might in the future, function without.

But, before you know it, a couple of verbal paras in, I find myself defaulting to the kinds of descriptive words one associates with politicians and marketeers, like “grass roots”, “transparency” and “top-down”. While art is of course also a matter of business, this slippery segue into non-speak I never thought I knew makes me think about how institutionalised the language around (and therefore approaches to) arts funding has become. The ever-closer alliance of the two has undoubtedly altered the way we talk about and make sense of institutional frameworks and big-event structures like the biennial.

Naturally, at this moment, there is very little being said in re the funding landscape of the future. Cultural leaders, practitioners and commentators are currently poised, awaiting word from the newly appointed culture and Olympics minister, Jeremy Hunt, which should bring about a deluge of reports and editorial column inches. I did find this, though, Culture Wars’ editor Sarah Boyes’s thoughtful and timely reminder of the space we, cultural producers in all guises, are fighting for:

“There is a second function other than reflecting and distilling that the arts can play in society (in fact, there are many). The arts in many manifestations represent a space where new possibilities can be imagined, free from the petty and often wearing constraints of the everyday. Indeed, it is only when the arts are able to unabashedly be themselves in this way that that they can lift us beyond the here and now. New ways of constructing cultural institutions, importantly their relations to audiences and their funding, are key to this end. And perhaps once the issue is openly considered, there will be some surprising conclusions.”

Her words send me back to my recent rural-art experience at Tatton… a truly privileged but equally (fiscally and politically) compromised space for facilitators and makers. Thoughts of how this necessarily big and bold initiative might be streamlined are swapped with memories of its best bits and the ideas they provoke. For now I’m going to dangle my legs over the pending tray with the rest.

Posted by Rebecca Geldard at 1:23 PM