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
Performers drink tea at the Glastonbury festival in 2010

GlastonburyWI to make debut appearance at Somerset festival

Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister

TV reviewIt has taken seven episodes for Game of Thrones season five to hit its stride

Arts and Entertainment
Jesuthasan Antonythasan as Dheepan

FilmPalme d'Or goes to radical and astonishing film that turns conventional thinking about immigrants on its head

Arts and Entertainment
Måns Zelmerlöw performing

Eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
Graham Norton was back in the commentating seat for Eurovision 2015

Eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
The light stuff: Britt Robertson and George Clooney in ‘Tomorrowland: a World Beyond’
film review
Arts and Entertainment
Reawakening: can Jon Hamm’s Don Draper find enlightenment in the final ‘Mad Men’?
tv reviewNot quite, but it's an enlightening finale for Don Draper spoiler alert
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Breakfast Show’s Nick Grimshaw

Radio
Arts and Entertainment

Eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
'Youth' cast members Paul Dano, Jane Fonda, Harvey Keitel, Rachel Weisz, and Michael Caine pose for photographers at Cannes Film Festival
film
Arts and Entertainment
Adam West as Batman and Burt Ward and Robin in the 1960s Batman TV show

Comics
Arts and Entertainment
I am flute: Azeem Ward and his now-famous instrument
music
Arts and Entertainment
A glass act: Dr Chris van Tulleken (left) and twin Xand get set for their drinking challenge
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
MIA perform at Lovebox 2014 in London Fields, Hackney

music
Arts and Entertainment
Finnish punk band PKN hope to enter Eurovision 2015 and raise awareness for Down's Syndrome

eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
William Shakespeare on the cover of John Gerard's The Herball or Generall Historie of Plantes

books
Arts and Entertainment

Game of Thrones review
Arts and Entertainment
Grayson Perry dedicates his Essex home to Julie

Potter's attempt to create an Essex Taj Mahal was a lovely treat

tv
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the original Swedish version of the sci-fi TV drama ‘Real Humans’
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Hugh Keays-Byrne plays Immortan Joe, the terrifying gang leader, in the new film
filmActor who played Toecutter returns - but as a different villain in reboot
Arts and Entertainment
Charlize Theron as Imperator Furiosa in Mad Max: Fury Road
film
Arts and Entertainment
Jessica Hynes in W1A
tvReview: Perhaps the creators of W1A should lay off the copy and paste function spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Power play: Mitsuko Uchida in concert

classical
Arts and Entertainment
Dangerous liaisons: Dominic West, Jake Richard Siciliano, Maura Tierney and Leya Catlett in ‘The Affair’ – a contradictory drama but one which is sure to reel the viewers in
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Herring, pictured performing at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival two years ago
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
Music freak: Max Runham in the funfair band
theatre
Arts and Entertainment
film 'I felt under-used by Hollywood'
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.

    Abuse - and the hell that came afterwards

    Abuse - and the hell that follows

    James Rhodes on the extraordinary legal battle to publish his memoir
    Why we need a 'tranquility map' of England, according to campaigners

    It's oh so quiet!

    The case for a 'tranquility map' of England
    'Timeless fashion': It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it

    'Timeless fashion'

    It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
    If the West needs a bridge to the 'moderates' inside Isis, maybe we could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive after all

    Could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive?

    Robert Fisk on the Fountainheads of World Evil in 2011 - and 2015
    New exhibition celebrates the evolution of swimwear

    Evolution of swimwear

    From bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
    Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

    Sun, sex and an anthropological study

    One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
    From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

    Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

    'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
    'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

    Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

    This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
    Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

    Songs from the bell jar

    Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
    How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

    One man's day in high heels

    ...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
    The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

    King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

    The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

    End of the Aussie brain drain

    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
    Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

    Can meditation be bad for you?

    Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
    Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

    Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

    Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine