ARTS / How should we celebrate the millennium?

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The Independent Culture
IT'S LIKE one of those Reader's Digest competitions: if you were given pounds 250,000, how would you spend it? Only this time, we're talking pounds 1.6bn, roughly 20 per cent of the proceeds of the National Lottery. The nine members of the government-appointed Millennium Commission has been asked to spend other people's money, which must be near the top of everyone's list of Fun Things To Do. The proviso is that the money should be spent on projects that are 'of the millennium'. The problem is that no one, least of all the commission, can decide what that means. All too aware of the demands of posterity (who wants to be remembered for having made the wrong decision?), the commissioners are touring the country before making up their minds. The Millennium Commission is inaptly named. The one thing they cannot do is commission: all proposals must be submitted from outside. The heavies have already weighed in: English National Opera, the Royal Opera House, the South Bank Centre and the Tate Gallery have drawn up mouthwatering proposals. As the judges begin their task, DAVID BENEDICT asks a selection of the great, the good and the frankly greedy to offer their suggestions for the spending spree of the century . . .

NORMAN FOSTER

AFTER very careful deliberation, I have reached the momentous conclusion that the British Museum, the Albertopolis project, Brighton Pier and Duxford are all immensely worthy of consideration by the Millenium Commission.

The British Museum project is about rediscovering something that lies hidden. There used to be a grand courtyard which was lost when the library was put in. With the move of the library, there's a great opportunity to rediscover this unbelievable space. At the moment, the building is like a city without a park. Work is needed to make it easy for visitors to move through the museum and find their way around. We will create a meeting point and breathing space. At the moment there's no natural focus to it.

London at large has had no major landscaping for years. We have this incredible heritage and this is a marvellous opportunity to really do something about it. Take Buckingham Palace, it's perfectly positioned but never lit.

Albertopolis is about the interaction between the arts and sciences which co-exist in the huge city block from the Albert Memorial down to South Kensington. The entire block could be re-lit, cleaned and properly signed. It could be a case study for the whole city. We could make the stones glisten and add floodlighting. We would link the buildings properly rather than relying on that grotty tunnel under Exhibition Road.

Brighton has a magnificent Grade 1 listed pier just sitting there. It would be stunning to bring it back to life. It's a chance to regenerate that part of Brighton, to rejuvenate it by connecting it to contemporary structures without obscuring the view. It would act as a catalyst for the town.

Then there's Duxford, which is part of the Imperial War Museum. It will be a building to commemorate the Allied Air Forces, particularly in the Second World War and the Gulf War. The building that exists is partly submerged and is at least 60m long. It takes the form of a gentle concrete shell opening up on to the runways. It houses a remarkable collection of vintage aircraft including Spitfires, Hurricanes and one of the few surviving B52s and it's also a live flying airfield.

All these projects are totally different and complementary and there's no conflict of interest involved as we will be designing all of them.

Sir Norman Foster recently won the American Institute of Architecture's Gold Medal

JENNIFER EDWARDS

IT WOULD be astonishing if they didn't spend some of the money on at least one of the major arts projects that have already applied. Obviously, I can't suggest which one as they're all clients of the National Campaign for the Arts (of which Edwards is director). There are rumours that the commission doesn't want to fund arts projects that could potentially receive funding from elsewhere, but I think that's wrong. It certainly wasn't the attitude of our forefathers, who kept the arts in the forefront of ventures like this.

Speaking personally, I think they must look to the future: the development of the new. Paris has the Gallery of Arts and New Technology. Ideas like that are a good start.

Any project must have the future development of artists in mind. The future education and training of artists is essential. Whatever large-scale scheme they opt for must have those sorts of facilities built in from the design stage. An opera house should have a studio attached so that skills can be passed on and new work can be developed.

We will probably define the arts differently in the next century. Already we are seeing all kinds of collaborations between traditional art forms - opera singers with mime artists, musicians and actors. We need something that will be versatile enough to adapt to changing techniques and continue to be relevant.

Jennifer Edwards is the director of the National Campaign for the Arts

JAMES MACMILLAN

THERE needs to be a major stocktaking process of the last century with regard to the arts. A hard-headed analysis would show both the state and status of music and the arts in this country to be very low. Compare us with other modern European countries like Germany and France. They have strong musical traditions which they nurture.

There's also a grassroots problem. Classical music is still seen as the preserve of the bourgeoisie. We have to counter the ravages of popular culture, the way serious music and the arts have been marginalised. We have to interest people in ideas about music. The way you do that it through education. Budgets must be hugely enhanced. We need to have far more interaction between orchestras and educational bodies. Music must be made available and experienced in a real hands- on way in schools. It's not a question of providing the odd Casio keyboard, you have to have a major shift in thinking and funding.

Players in British orchestras in their thirties and forties are the result of enlightened music policies. They come from all classes. Younger players are increasingly middle class. We have to stop the rot.

James MacMillan is the composer of 'The Confessions of Isobel Gowdie'

JULIA PEYTON-JONES

ART MUST be restored to a central position in public and government thinking. It's a one-off chance for a really strong gesture towards creativity and risk-taking which must be a part of contemporary thinking and practice.

The first thing is to celebrate contemporary art as well as the art of other times. A Millennium Biennale should be set up, more ambitious than any other contemporary art project, taking over four major UK cities with careful and considered sitings of public works of art. Having started this incredible impetus, funding should be provided for 20 years on a five-year cycle. It will be even bigger than Venice.

Purchase grants should be given to all the major museums, so that we have resources to equal Getty which would revolutionise British collections. Millennium celebrations would address the lamentable underfunding of arts in this country.

All major galleries should have endowment funding to secure their future, with separate money to restore the fabric of their buildings. Tax incentives should be created to buy contemporary art, which is pivotal in maintaining a cultural life. This would encourage collectors and ensure the future of commercial galleries, enabling artists to thrive. It would also encourage people to make bequests to the arts.

Most contemporary galleries in this country exist on almost no allocation for exhibition budgets. Money is raised through sponsorship and other income-generating sources. The precariousness of public institutions in terms of funding needs to be addressed as a major priority.

Artists' studio complexes must be renovated and new ones set up with informal gallery spaces alongside. Britain has one of the highest populations of working artists and many studio complexes are artist-funded and therefore exist on the barest minimum. Printing houses should be set up and new technology made available to giving access to other media. There should also be annual awards for artists.

Finally, extensive information and education should be made available in schools to enable people to understand the importance of contemporary culture. It should be part of general knowledge and as relevant as any other daily activity. The year 2000 is a chance to recognise the enormous wealth of talent and opportunity in this country, a proud statement of what our artists can do.

Julia Peyton-Jones is the director of the Serpentine Gallery

VERITY LAMBERT

I CAN see why they're confused about what to spend it on. It is an enormous amount of money. Someone like Jeremy Isaacs should make a history of the 20th century encompassing politics, art, music, everthing. It would be tremendously useful and wouldn't take too much money. Then I started to think about something like a large-scale version of the South Bank Centre to incorporate all the art forms, but that is too elitist, too London-based. So I decided that you could deploy the money by creating centres in as many cities throughout the British Isles as possible, which would be along the lines of the Museum of the Moving Image. It's crucial that they must not be elitist, they should be forward-thinking and designed by young architects looking at design now. The Channel 4 building is a perfect example, a beautiful building which reflects the work inside.

These centres should have all kinds of facilities to show films, paintings and so on, with computer graphics and music. Something that isn't bound up in tradition - young people musn't feel it's boring. Obviously, you must have a historical context but it's important that they feel young, attractive and appealing so as to encourage people to come in. They should be about art at the outset of the 21st century, looking forward rather than reflecting back. We must create a heritage to be looked back upon in years to come.

Verity Lambert is currently producing Lynda La Plante's 'She's Out'

WILLIAM BURDETT-COUTTS

MY IDEA is pretty radical: the money should be used to end arts funding. An endowment fund should be given to every arts organisation which has continuing annual revenue funding. That will kill the current concept of Arts Council and local authority funding. This would enable arts organisations to turn back to doing the work they should be doing, rather than the eternal grant-chasing and form-filling, secure in the knowledge that funding would be secure.

I wouldn't abolish the Arts Council entirely. Instead, I'd turn it into an ombudsman, in order to review and evaluate the operation of the companies, to call them to account. Obviously, new ideas and forms will arise so a fund should also be created for new work and ideas. Another priority would be to repair the fabric of building-based arts organisations by supplying capital grants to put buildings into good working order.

Like most other people in the arts, I spend 99 per cent of my time sorting out budgets and searching for grants. We are forced to make our work fit into the requirements of the funding bodies. Our eye is off the ball most of the time. It should be on the work, not elsewhere.

William Burdett-Coutts is the director of the Riverside Studios

MO MOWLAM

THERE must be no political interference over this. That said, of all the schemes, my personal favourite is libraries. They are a crucial facility which we're in danger of losing.

Thinking more environmentally, we should restock the rivers of this country, but on the other hand we should also address the concept of 24-hour cities.

The commission must assist small groups to make submissions. At the moment, only the large-scale organisations have the know-how and back-up to make proper proposals.

Mo Mowlam is Labour's spokeswoman for National Heritage

WENDY COPE

I THINK people should be better paid for doing what they do already. It's all very nice to be given commissions but actually it's better to be paid properly for doing the things you've thought of. From the point of view of literature, that's what the money should be spent on, rather than particular wheezes and projects. Mind you, Public Lending Right has been slightly cut this year. Some of the money should be used to increase it. Poetry is so badly represented in libraries and everywhere else. Funds should be provided to address this.

Poet Wendy Cope is the author of 'Serious Concerns'

ADRIAN NOBLE

THIS is an opportunity for the most exciting building programme since the end of the 17th century. Every community should be encouraged to bid, with the bulk of the money going to local schemes and buildings for young people.

One of the grand schemes should be supported. Their scale and sense of excitement inspire people. Parisians understand that. But it musn't be all about London. Neglected parts of the country need this inspiration. Also, a tunnel link must be built between London and Stratford. Not that I'm biased.

Adrian Noble is the artistic director of the RSC

PHYLLIS NAGY

FIRSTLY, establish a true National Theatre for new writing and new opera. The two should be much more linked because opera is theatre. It's not just music with acting attached. There should be a company of actors working in repertory all year round but they should only do new work.

Secondly, build artists' housing along the lines of Manhattan Plaza, an entire city block at 43rd Street and 9th. Low-cost, decent apartments in major cities throughout the UK. Make people live where they work and make the rent income-related.

Playwright Phyllis Nagy's latest play is 'Butterfly Kiss'

(Photographs omitted)

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