Coales' Notes: War efforts: Ars Longa arts organisation resolves to provide cultural services for those in conflict

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The Independent Culture
MONDAY: All day, war talk: in particular, about Susan Sontag's production of Waiting for Godot in Sarajevo, and the painter the Times sent over, who it turned out hadn't gone mad after all, much to everyone's disappointment. Di felt it was something definitely worth thinking about.

I said I couldn't see what good it would do anyone at this late stage, throwing all this culture at the former Yugoslavia. She replied: 'That's true. I guess they're pretty much saturated by now. But as a general idea. I mean there must be other wars.' And Rory said: 'Oh well, that's very simple. I've got a friend in the Foreign Office. I can just phone him up, and ask him what wars there are.'

I suggested, if this idea ever came to anything, perhaps we should consider sending Alan into the war zone. He had thoroughly disgraced himself on his company attachment. At least, on the battle- field, he wouldn't be able to spend the whole time asleep. But Di thought that wouldn't be right at all. For war art, you needed someone who could draw - 'You know, hands and feet, that sort of thing.'

She wondered if I'd mind trying to sort out a suitable candidate among 'our lot' of artists - so we could have someone on stand-by, if a war came up suddenly.

TUESDAY: I spent the morning on the phone, trying to drum up a potential war artist from within our stable. It didn't prove very easy. The conversations typically went like this; Me: Now I have a very delicate question to ask you, and please think about it carefully before answering. We don't have any particular war in mind at the moment, but would you in principle be willing to work as a war artist, in a war zone, bearing in mind that in such circumstances no one's safety can be 100 per cent guaranteed?

Artist: Sure, no problem, very interested.

Me: OK. Now I have another rather delicate question to ask you, and again think very carefully before answering. Can you draw?

Artist: Hey, what is this?

Me: Simple question, surely.

Artist: You mean 'draw' draw?

Me: So you can't?

Artist: I'm sorry, how is that relevant?

Me: Thanks anyway.

Very embarrassing. I hope we drop all this nonsense soon.

WEDNESDAY: Rory was in over- drive today. Mid-afternoon, he sat back and said: 'Right. Now what about this?' He handed round copies of a draft of a prospectus, saying: 'The point is, you see, this way, the money comes from them.' It began:


'Are you at war? The prominent London-based arts organisation, Ars Longa, is now able to offer a wide range of cultural products and services to warring parties anywhere in the world.

'With long experience in organising topical and community- centred arts events, Ars Longa is superbly placed to supply you and your allies with art and performance in every medium, while responding sensitively to whatever it is that makes your war special.

'By exclusive agreement with your high command, and with full military protection from you, Ars Longa can provide a choice of artistic services of the very highest quality - any one of which will add a unique and unforgettable cultural dimension to your war, whatever its ultimate outcome.'

It went on to outline 'just some of Ars Longa's outstanding war art services'. They included:

'ART. Ars Longa war artists are hand picked for their powers of observation and vision, but also for their sense of personal commitment. While reflecting graphically on the horror and futility of war, your Ars Longa war-artist will never forget which side he or she is working for . . .'

'POETRY. Enough said. No war is complete without a war poet. From Homer to Rupert Brooke, poets have used the power of verse to bring wars alive for surviving generations - a monument more lasting than any war memorial. (NB Ars Longa war poets may not actually visit the war zone in person. They may respond poetically to war from a wider persepctive.)

'DRAMA. A performance of one of the classics of 20th-century drama (selected by experts to be relevant to your war), staged in the heart of the war zone, would be an extraordinary event and a unique contribution to both military and civilian morale.

'Remember. At any one time, there are dozens of wars in progress all over the world - but sadly, not all of them receive the attention they deserve from the world's media. A cultural dimension will immediately raise the profile of your war among people who matter, and can lead to extensive full-colour magazine and TV coverage . . .'

He'd also thought to add some small print. 'Ars Longa is all too aware that conditions of war are unpredictable. So, in the interests of our own security, we will require that: in the event of any Ars Longa war artist, having already arrived in the war zone, becoming unable to provide the agreed artistic service (for whatever reason),

or, in the event of your war unexpectedly ending before any pre- agreed Ars Longa artistic service can be put in place,

you will honour the terms of any agreement already entered into with Ars Longa.

For its part, Ars Longa undertakes to pursue any outstanding claims with due sensitivity to prevailing war and / or post-war conditions, as they may arise.'

We all read it through. I said, I didn't know why, but the phrase 'war-profiteering' came to mind. Di said she was quite shocked by my cynicism.