COALES' NOTES / The quest for an unborn art-form: Gordon Coales settles in at Ars Longa and looks for a gap in the art-prize market

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The Independent Culture
TUESDAY I now feel a little clearer in my mind about where I am. Mr Silver turned up out of the blue today, and we had lunch. He said: 'You may get the impression from Di that you're working for her. You're not. You're working for me. Remember that.' He was most encouraging about my work so far on the Longa Report (rather minimal, it must be admitted, owing to unfavourable working conditions). He also wants to initiate a Longa Prize, to promote 'high artistic values'. But what for precisely, not sure yet. But I agreed it sounded an excellent idea.

I also mentioned how difficult I found the open-plan set-up. He said he'd see what he could be done. Altogether very helpful.

WEDNESDAY A particularly difficult day. Nothing but Di on the phone at the very top of her voice. For instance:

'Well, you can be a Merchant- Sponsor, and with that you get your logo on the cover of the programme, plus you can have a note inside, saying your company has long been committed to the belief that music makes the world better, even before there was Classic FM.'

There was a pause. She went on: 'Or, or - you can be a Prince-Sponsor, and with that you get to put a four-page full- colour insert inside the programme, plus a display unit in the foyer, plus you also help choose the concerts, though naturally in consultation with the artistic director. And then finally there's Pope-Sponsor, and by that stage you basically own them - always bearing in mind that we are talking about professional musicians, and there are some things they probably will not do. So, you have to keep testing the limits, that's right.'

There was quite a long pause, and then she said:

'Ah. Well, below Merchant- Sponsor, there's only Burgher- Sponsor - name inside the programme, free bumper- stickers . . .' and at this point I left the office in distress, and went down to the bookshop beneath us, which is becoming an increasingly valuable bolt-hole for me. Glad not to be on that side of the business.

THURSDAY This afternoon, Suzie handed round some sheets with a great smirk on her face, announcing 'fax from Richard, copies to everyone.' It was a peculiar document.

'APRIL CUE-SHEET.

Thought: 'What is a weed? A plant whose virtues have not yet been discovered.' Ralph Waldo Emerson.

Queries etc:

Camille Paglia, Wendy Beckett. Who are they? Who controls them?

Britain's moral crisis: do the arts respond?

Sounds like Henryk Gorecki. Looks like Joanna MacGregor. Find her.

Art-to-Iraq. What do we know? Will it come out?

The End of History. When? Important?

Pursue please.

Richard Silver.'

I said, I supposed it must be an April Fool. Rory said: 'No. They come in every month.'

I asked what should be done about it then. He said: 'What we would normally tend to do, is completely ignore it.' And Di added: 'I'm afraid if we followed through all Richard's suggestions we'd be in permanent gridlock, quite apart from the fact that half of them are two years out of date, and the other half are - shall we say - a bit visionary.'

Rory added: 'He has dinner with somebody, he gets excited, he has a vision. Word to the wise, Gordon: don't get drawn in.' Rather strange.

FRIDAY I was sticking in the office at lunchtime today, hoping for a little peace and quiet, when Silver rang.

He made no mention of the cue-sheet. He wanted to think further about the idea of a Longa Prize. 'The question it seems to me comes down to this - which art-form is most in need of encouragement?'

I thought perhaps I should back off a little. I said that if there was one thing one learnt from long experience of the arts, it was that none of them needed it. They were all quite irrepressible. He replied: 'OK. So you're telling me that, as things stand, the existing art-forms are in no need of encouragement. Right.' I said absolutely.

'So, by a process of elimination, thinking literally and thinking laterally, what's the solution we arrive at?' I wasn't quite sure.

'So clearly, the Longa Prize is awarded for an art-form that does not, at this present moment, exist - for instance like what?' I said, was he actually asking me to think up an entirely new art- form, off the top of my head? He replied: 'God no] Do it next week.' And then he murmured: 'Gordon. I'm excited.'

But he did promise he would definitely try and do something about getting me an office.

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