Arts Diary

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The Independent Culture
IF ALASTAIR Campbell should tire of 10 Downing Street, a job awaits him in the high arts. Both the National Gallery and the British Museum have decided to appoint spin doctors, reporting to the respective directors Neil MacGregor and Robert Anderson. Those of us who did not appreciate that a more positive gloss needs to be put on Caravaggio, and had not seen the need for art critics to be given three bottles of claret before they saw the case for the Elgin Marbles remaining in Britain, are out of touch with the realpolitik. The new spin doctors will be required to forge links with ministers and backbench MPs; and I hear that the Culture Department has been encouraging the two national flagships to have curators of spin. Doughty campaigners for free admission, such as Jennifer Edwards of the National Campaign for the Arts, Elizabeth Foy of the Courtauld Institute and Alison Cole of the National Arts Collection Fund are being eyed up. A National Gallery spokeswoman says: "We simply want to be even more efficient than we now are." And the fact that the BM has chosen to advertise the post at the same time? "Ah," she reflects, "that is slightly unfortunate."

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I ANTICIPATED in this column last week that Royal Ballet dancer Deborah Bull (left) was courting trouble with her first remarks as a new member of the Arts Council. Fresh-faced youth, she said, was replacing "old men in suits". Trouble soon followed - and from an embarrassing quarter for Miss Bull. Her attacker, no old man in a suit she, is the elegant and much admired Lady MacMillan, former Arts Council member, former head of the Council's dance panel, a board member of the Royal Ballet and widow of Kenneth MacMillan, the Royal Ballet's celebrated choreographer. "Her entire career with the Royal Ballet," says Deborah MacMillan of Ms Bull, "has been supported by these `old men' ... her comment can only give cause for concern about the quality of debate to come." As the two Deborahs must meet very regularly, the quality of debate between the two of them, at least, should be pretty lively.

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CHATTING TO Sir Peter Hall about the decline in arts funding and the low esteem the Government seems to have for the arts, I am told by the venerable director that some blame for the lack of funding rests with us critics. "Why are people who question the financing of theatres whingeing luvvies?" he asks. Actually, I partly agree. The continual use of the word "luvvie" in the papers is demeaning to artists, and cheapens the funding debate.

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LANGUAGE IS a powerful catalyst in affecting public opinion towards the arts. Last Wednesday night I was part of a panel discussing arts funding in a 90-minute programme on Radio 5. Listeners who called in were nearly all scornful of the idea that the arts should receive any more money. It's ironic that the lobby which should be the most articulate in the country has failed to get its message across. But we were able to bring happiness to an art lover from Wales, who said she yearned to go to the opera but could not afford pounds 100 for a seat. When we told her that she could in fact go to the Welsh National Opera for a few pounds, her delight was a joy to hear.

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