Coales' Notes: Appointments and disappointments: They're looking for a new chairman of the Arts Council. Gordon Coales can't see himself applying, but he knows a man who can

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The Independent Culture
MONDAY Had a call from Richard Silver today, something I am learning to dread slightly. He seems to have been talking to someone at a party again. He said: 'So, I gather they're looking for a new chairman at the Arts Council.' I said, yes, apparently.

He said: 'Yes, I gather it's the job no one wants.' I said the two main drawbacks to it were always that (1) it was unpaid, and (2) one tended to become universally loathed.

He said: 'I see. So what do you think my chances are?' I explained that it wasn't a job you could simply apply for, you had to be invited by the Minister, who would probably be looking among those who were already widely known and respected in the arts world.

He said: 'Can we think about that then?' This is a great nuisance, but I suppose I had better do something to show willing.

So, I have now been with Ars Longa for two lunar months. I think I can say that after a shaky start, and given the very great difficulties of working in an open plan office, the sometimes doubtful moral climate in which we operate and the fact that it is basically a job for a much younger man, things could have turned out much worse.

I don't think about the poor old Centre at all now. They can do what they like with it.

TUESDAY I told Di about Silver. She said (wearily): 'Oh well, let's get Lottie on the case.' I remarked, it must be very handy to have a tame member of the press. Di said: 'Well, she supposedly wrote 1,500 words on our Unton Literary Festival for one of the Sundays, but I never saw it. I mean, I think she is good, basically.'

WEDNESDAY Lunch with Lottie.

She came in saying: 'Look I am really sorry, Di, I really tried with that one, and I just don't understand it, they said they were going to run it full length, with just a few cuts maybe, and then it just came out as that diary story about those three poets having a fight - which I hadn't even put in the article. It's just incredibly insensitive editing. In fact, I think I would call it censorship.'

We explained the Silver problem to her: essentially, a man who needed his very valuable contribution to the arts to be more fully recognised - by coincidence our boss.

She said: 'Great. And what's the angle?'

Di said: 'You're the writer.'

Lottie said: 'So - find the angle, right?'

She got out a notepad, and began doodling on it very intensely. Then she said: 'I know - how long has your outfit been going now?'

Di said it was coming up for six years now. Lottie said: 'Ah, right. You see if it had been five years, I could have done something. But six years isn't really a story.'

She doodled some more.

Then: 'Hey, what about this? If we could think of two other people who are basically doing the same thing as Richard, then we could say: Who is this new generation of Arts Dynamos?' I said, the problem there was that the whole point of the exercise was to put the spotlight exclusively on Silver.

More doodling.

'Or we could try and do a 'Life In The Day Of' type of thing. You know - I'm best in the morning. Breakfast is a cup of strong black coffee, and then it's kind of, all arts from there on in. . .' Di shook her head. Lottie said: 'Well has he got any close friends who are interesting too? Or enemies? I'm developing this idea for a 'Why We Hate Each Other' series.'

I said obviously what we needed was 'My Blueprint for the Arts in Britain by Richard Silver'. Di said: 'I really don't think that's a good idea.' Lottie was keen. Di insisted that someone else - me - should be present to 'keep him under control'. As far as I'm concerned, he only needs to feel that efforts are being made. I spoke to Silver later, and he likes the idea too, and named lunch tomorrow.

THURSDAY Quite extraordinary. While we were waiting for Silver to arrive, Lottie mentioned to me that she was working on quite an interesting regional story, 'about something called the Wormgrove Centre'.

I asked if she by any chance meant Wormwood?

She said: 'That's right. So you've heard of it.' I said yes, very vaguely. She went on: 'You're the first person who has, which is a bit discouraging. Anyway, the story is, it closed down at the end of last year. And now it's about to re-open again.'

I asked if she was absolutely sure about that (though I have half been expecting it).

She said: 'Yes, I've talked to the guy who's going to be the new director of it.'

I asked who was that, then. She replied: 'It's in my other notebook. I think he's called Olly something.' She added: 'I can see it's in danger of sounding terribly worthy, but I think it could be made quite readable.'

I was dumbfounded. I said, this Olly - was he a young chap, in his early twenties? She thought he was quite young.

I said, but someone with almost no experience of arts administration at all. She wasn't sure about that.

I said, but did she mean the sort of person you would more expect to find manning a box office rather than actually running an entire arts centre?

She said they hadn't met yet. Then Silver arrived. I may say that with this in my mind I found it impossible to pay attention to the interview. I think I just sat there staring.

Afterwards Lottie said to me: 'Well, controversial or what?' It seems Silver had proposed a total end to all subsidy, and to do the whole thing by susbscription. Lottie explained: 'So if you're going to write a play, instead of writing it straight off, you put an advertisement in the paper to find out if anyone wants you to write it, and they pay in advance. So people get the art they want, and artists don't waste their time. I mean, I don't absolutely agree with it, but I think I could sell it to the Daily Mail.'

I told her, if she wanted to make a name for herself in the field of arts journalism, she shouldn't waste her time trying to get the ridiculous views of a deeply ignorant man into print. She should undertake a full investigation of this Wormwood Centre where, I had a feeling, one of the most imprudent and scandalous arts appointments of all time was about to be made. I'm taking a day off and going straight up tomorrow morning to use what small influence I may still have.

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