Boyd Tonkin: If we won't fund arts, at least stop the state from disrupting the cultural traffic

The Week in Books

A few years' ago, I took a tiny part in a review of national arts policy headed by Sir Brian McMaster, former director of the Edinburgh Festival. After two decades of grim utilitarianism, in which culture won state approval only thanks to its role in civic regeneration, McMaster went back to basics. His first-class report stressed "supporting excellence" in arts rather than ticking demographic boxes or lending a fractional lift to cash-flow in the inner cities.

Sadly, we were wasting our breath over the civil-service tea and biccies. The latest culture secretary has decreed once more that the arts should pay their way. Of course, as every Broadway smash that began on a subsidised stage proves, the sector delivers a massive return on very modest public investment. A new study commissioned by Arts Council England shows that the cultural industries, with an annual value today of £12.4bn., provide one British job in every 200 while receiving only one pound in every thousand that the government spends.

These figures include book publishing, a business which - according to statistics from the Publishers Association - grew by 4 per cent in 2012. That counts as a spanking result in a downturn, however many shades of mummy porn might have helped swell the numbers. Although literature takes hardly any direct state subsidy beyond the minuscule (but precious) sums channelled into it by the Arts and British Councils, the zero-rating of printed books for VAT does represent a big annual boon.

Books turned over £3.3bn. last year, with £411m. coming from digital sales. Of the £2.9bn. print revenues, exports accounted for over 40 per cent - around £1.2bn. So - Maria Miller please note - UK publishing is a billion-pound export business with a long record of overseas earnings that leaves many flagship industries in dry dock.

In this hard-headed age of austerity, what might state agencies do to make the job of such a globe-spanning, cash-spinning enterprise easier? I have a simple suggestion. Stop treating creative people who merely hope to trade with, or perform in, Britain as potential criminals. Across the cultural sector, an ever-more paranoid visa regime is denying short-term entry to non-EU professionals who no more wish to become illegal immigrants than Nigel Farage yearns to apply for Belgian citizenship.

Last month, Turkey was the "market focus" - corporate-speak for "guest of honour" - at the London Book Fair. Now, any recent observer of Turkish literature and its fortunes abroad will know that the nation's authors and publishers owe a vast debt to the remarkable work of the Kalem literary agency and its dynamic founder, Nermin Mollaoglu. Kalem must be worth about a dozen ambassadors to the Turkish state.

Naturally, Mollaoglu wanted to bring some of her staff to the Fair: keen agents who will not only sell Turkish books to Britain but, in future, buy British books for Turkey too. Yet, in a typical stroke of bureaucratic idiocy, one young agent was heartbroken to have her visa application refused. She had supplied an employer's letter. It seems that's not enough now for a panic-stricken system that detects a cunning benefits scrounger in every well-intentioned visitor.

For years, I have heard similar stories from figures in the arts. Britain slams its doors on the best and brightest who, far from plotting to settle here, merely wish to share skills and do deals for a spell. Worse than the appeasement of populist prejudice, this is the route to national suicide. Irrational visa-denial sends out a simple message about Britain: closed for talent; closed for business. Stay away. If our cultural industries can't rely on official help, so be it. In that case, the state should get off their backs and stop disrupting the cross-border flows of people and ideas that make friends, make art - and make money too.

Henrik Ibsen: a commentary on the Ukip surge?

Every vital new version of an Ibsen masterpiece ends up sounding as up-to-date - and sharper - than the headlines. I relished much about David Harrower's scintillating take on Public Enemy (aka An Enemy of the People), now on at the Young Vic. Not least, the moment when Aslaksen argues that radicals should only attack national government. "National politicians don't care. But overthrow the local authorities and you get idiots - anyone with half an opinion - suddenly taking control." After last week's council results, we shall see.

May’s the month for global stories

For those who like to read around the world, this will be the sweetest month. On 20 May, we will know the winner of the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize, with outstanding novels by Enrique Vila- Matas, Andrés Neuman, Ismail Kadare, Dasa Drndic, Chris Barnard and Gerbrand Bakker in contention. On 15 May, the British Library hosts European Literature Night: a stellar lineup this year offers Catalonia’s Jordi Punti, the Czech Jachym Topol and Turkey’s Ece Temelkuran (bl.uk/whatson).

Asia House’s Festival of Asian Literature continues, with appearances by two giants of Chinese fiction, Ma Jian and Yan Lianke, on the 21 and Man Asian prize-winner Tan Twan Eng on 22 May (asiahouse.org). That’s assuming our eminent non-EU visitors can persuade the UK visa authorities that they don’t secretly plan to go underground and clear tables in a coffee-shop…

Arts and Entertainment
Will there ever be a Friends reunion?
TV
News
Harry Hill plays the Professor in the show and hopes it will help boost interest in science among young people
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
A Van Gogh sold at Sotheby’s earlier this month
art
Arts and Entertainment

MusicThe band accidentally called Londoners the C-word

Arts and Entertainment
'Africa' will be Angelina Jolie's fifth film as a director

Film 'I've never been comfortable on-screen', she says

PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment

books
Arts and Entertainment
One Direction go Fourth: The boys pose on the cover of their new album Four

Review: One Direction, Four

music
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
'Game of Thrones' writer George RR Martin

Review: The World of Ice and Fire

books
Arts and Entertainment
Sean Bean will play 'extraordinary hero' Inspector John Marlott in The Frankenstein Chronicles
tvHow long before he gets killed off?
Arts and Entertainment
Some like it hot: Blaise Bellville

music
Arts and Entertainment
A costume worn by model Kate Moss for the 2013 photograph

art
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Len Goodman appeared to mutter the F-word after Simon Webbe's Strictly performance

Strictly
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie T makes his long-awaited return to the London stage
musicReview: Alexandra Palace, London
Arts and Entertainment
S Club 7 back in 2001 when they also supported 'Children in Need'
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Sir Bruce Forsyth rejoins Tess Daly to host the Strictly Come Dancing Children in Need special
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie Dornan plays Christian Grey getting ready for work

Film More romcom than S&M

Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Benedict Cumberbatch star in the Alan Turing biopic The Imitation Game

Review: The Imitation Game

film
Arts and Entertainment
The comedian Daniel O'Reilly appeared contrite on BBC Newsnight last night

comedy
Arts and Entertainment
The American stand-up Tig Notaro, who performed topless this week

Comedy...to show her mastectomy scars

Arts and Entertainment

TVNetflix gets cryptic

Arts and Entertainment
Claudia Winkleman is having another week off Strictly to care for her daughter
TV
Arts and Entertainment
BBC Children in Need is the BBC's UK charity. Since 1980 it has raised over £600 million to change the lives of disabled children and young people in the UK

TV review A moving film showing kids too busy to enjoy their youth

Arts and Entertainment
Richard Flanagan with his winning novel

Books Not even a Man Booker prize could save Richard Flanagan from a nomination

Arts and Entertainment
Bryan Cranston will play federal agent Robert Mazur in The Infiltrator

Books
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    US immigration: President Obama ready to press ahead with long-promised plan to overhaul 'broken system' - but will it get past a Republican-controlled Congress?

    Immigration: Obama's final frontier

    The President is ready to press ahead with the long-promised plan to overhaul America's 'broken system' - but will it get past a Republican-controlled Congress?
    Bill Cosby rape allegations explained: Why are these allegations coming out now? Why didn’t these women come forward earlier? And why has nobody taken legal action?

    Bill Cosby rape allegations explained

    Why are these allegations coming out now? Why has nobody taken legal action? And what happens next for the man once thought of as 'America's Dad'
    Four years of excruciating seizures caused by the 1cm tapeworm found burrowing through a man's brain

    You know that headache you’ve got?

    Four years of excruciating seizures caused by the 1cm tapeworm found burrowing through a man's brain
    Travelling to work by scooter is faster than walking and less sweaty than cycling, so why aren’t we all doing it?

    Scoot commute

    Travelling to work by scooter is faster than walking and less sweaty than cycling, so why aren’t we all doing it?
    Paul Robeson: The story of how an American icon was driven to death to be told in film

    The Paul Robeson story

    How an American icon was driven to death to be told in film
    10 best satellite navigation systems

    Never get lost again: 10 best satellite navigation systems

    Keep your vehicle going in the right direction with a clever device
    Paul Scholes column: England must learn to keep possession and dictate games before they are exposed by the likes of Germany and Brazil

    Paul Scholes column

    England must learn to keep possession and dictate games before they are exposed by the likes of Germany and Brazil
    Michael Dawson: I’ll thank Spurs after we win says defender as he prepares to return with Hull

    Michael Dawson: I’ll thank Spurs after we win

    Hull defender faces his struggling former club on Sunday ready to show what they are missing. But he says he will always be grateful to Tottenham
    Frank Warren column: Dr Wu has big plans for the professionals yet he should stick to the amateur game

    Frank Warren column

    Dr Wu has big plans for the professionals yet he should stick to the amateur game
    Synagogue attack: Fear unites both sides of Jerusalem as minister warns restoring quiet could take 'months'

    Terror unites Jerusalem after synagogue attack

    Rising violence and increased police patrols have left residents of all faiths looking over their shoulders
    Medecins sans Frontieres: The Ebola crisis has them in the headlines, but their work goes far beyond West Africa

    'How do you carry on? You have to...'

    The Ebola crisis has Medecins sans Frontieres in the headlines, but their work goes far beyond West Africa
    Isis extends its deadly reach with suicide bombing in Kurdish capital

    Isis extends its deadly reach with suicide bombing in Kurdish capital

    Residents in what was Iraq’s safest city fear an increase in jihadist attacks, reports Patrick Cockburn
    Underwater photography competition winners 2014 - in pictures

    'Mysterious and inviting' shot of diver wins photography competition

    Stunning image of cenote in Mexico takes top prize
    Sir John Major: Negative West End portrayals of politicians put people off voting

    Sir John Major hits out at theatres

    Negative West End portrayals of politicians put people off voting
    Kicking Barbie's butt: How the growth of 3D printing enabled me to make an army of custom-made figurines

    Kicking Barbie's butt

    How the growth of 3D printing enabled toy-designer to make an army of custom-made figurines