David Lister: The Tories say they love the arts but the evidence is lacking

The Week in Arts

Everyone reading this probably likes to think they are passionate about the arts.

I do myself in my occasional moments of passion. But how exactly does one define being passionate about the arts? Here to help us is the Government's own arts minister, Ed Vaizey. On the eve of the Conservative conference, it is particularly helpful to know that there are arts passionistas in the Government, and to know how to recognise this passion for culture.

The helpful Mr Vaizey, writing recently in The Spectator, noted: "In reality there are many Tories who are passionate about the arts. George Osborne, for example, is often spotted at the theatre; the Prime Minister is married to a designer; and Michael Gove apparently gets his exercise by lugging home books from Daunt's."

Well, let's grant the Chancellor of the Exchequer his membership of the arts passionistas for being spotted at the theatre. Mr Vaizey needs to make a stronger case for the Education Secretary's membership credentials. Those books that he was lugging around might well have been travel guides or manuals on the curriculum. But we'll give him the benefit of the doubt too. It is Mr Vaizey's words about his leader that boggle the mind. The Prime Minister is passionate about the arts because he has married a designer.

I would not for a moment cast doubt on Samantha Cameron's passion for her own job, or indeed on Mr Cameron's passion for Mrs Cameron. But does marrying someone really show that you are passionate about your spouse's job? "Darling, I adore your job. Will you marry me?" Besides, surely if you are passionate about your spouse's job you would actually do it, not marry for the sake of it.

The arts world demands a different passion from the Prime Minister. It demands that his private passion becomes public. The greatest way for a prime minister to demonstrate passion for the arts is to be an advocate for the arts. This means proclaiming loud and often Britain's cultural achievements, helping to persuade more people to take part in arts activity, and fostering an image of the arts not as a pastime but as an integral part of daily life.

And what an opportunity there is for him in the next week. As someone who, Mr Vaizey assures us, is passionate about the arts, Mr Cameron will surely devote some time to the subject in his speech to Conservative Party conference. A man should not be coy about his passions. True, it would make him the only party leader in this conference season to do so. True, it would mark a radical change from previous leader speeches at party conferences. But this is a man with a passion. Will he demonstrate that passion by going one step further than marrying a designer? Will he actually talk about the arts?

It's time a meeting took place, Steven

I'm always intrigued to come across examples of people who you think must have met many times, only to learn that they have never met at all. Martin Scorsese directed his epic opus on Bob Dylan without ever actually setting eyes on the singer. In Hollywood when an elderly Henry Fonda and Katharine Hepburn filmed On Golden Pond, it was their first meeting, despite decades of Hollywood parties where you would have thought they might have had the occasional drink and dance.

And this week in The Independent, Kelly Marcel, the Londoner who has written the script for Steven Spielberg's £60m sci-fi TV series Terra Nova, revealed she and Spielberg have still not met, even though the series begins in two days' time. As a producer and director, Spielberg is one of the most creative and imaginative people in film history. As someone who gets in touch with his collaborators and likes to put a face to the name, he appears to be a bit lacking here.

They're made of firm stuff at Gateshead

Great things are happening in Gateshead, home to the Sage and Baltic arts venues. I spent last weekend visiting Norman Foster's marvellous, undulating Sage building, where the Northern Sinfonia is based. The orchestra under its Austrian music director Thomas Zehetmair is working wonders, not just in the concert hall but as an integral part of the Sage's education programme, which is now one of the biggest in the world.

In addition, the striking building has now been licensed for weddings, and couples who marry there are then taken into the concert hall after the ceremony to meditate for a few minutes as the music plays. I'm told that Sage staff privately refer to this as the "Oh my God, what have I done!" moment.

Meanwhile, Maestro Zehetmair has bought a house in the area and swims every day in the North Sea, whatever the weather. The maestro is rarely interviewed in the press, and now I know why. A reporter from the local paper who asked for an interview was told he could have one – provided he joined the conductor for the morning swim. And he did! I hope the reporter wins a British Press Award for showing dedication beyond call of duty in getting the story.


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