Letter: Robinson's `elite'

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Sir: Last week's speech by the new chairman of the Arts Council, Gerry Robinson ("Arts Council chief warns of middle-class elitism," Thursday 15 October), confirmed what many practitioners in the subsidised sector have known for a long time - that the Arts Council and most regional arts boards operate within a seemingly impregnable but comfortably protective, ideological bubble.

They fail to understand the real economics of the subsidised sector of the arts. What Mr Robinson glibly interprets as a "patronising attitude to audiences" and the continued plying of "their trade to the same, white middle-class audiences" are, in fact, the symptoms of a desperate struggle for survival. In reality, the sector is terminally ill, but holds on by clinging to the most popular common denominator, elitist or otherwise, far more frequently than it would wish.

We all believe with Mr Robinson that "the arts can inspire" and that it is "our duty to go out and spread what can be a life-transforming experience" (does he think he's saying anything new?) but to effect the change he describes requires a positive demonstration of "confidence in our arts and artists". This demonstration can only be given by a level of investment in the work that makes up for years of shortfall. Even more importantly, this investment needs to be across the board and not just in so-called centres of excellence.

Mr Robinson talks of the arts playing "a meaningful role in taking young and long-term unemployed people off benefit as part of the Government's New Deal programme." Does he not realise that, if the arts were more secure, we could make an instant dent in the numbers of unemployed? Most regional theatres now operate with the lowest possible number of permanent employees and produce plays with a significantly lower size of cast.

The only way to secure excellence, access and education is realistic investment in long-term development. That is the cure - and it is the Arts Council and regional arts boards who need to pull their socks up, get in touch with reality and attack the true source of the problem rather than its victims.


Chief Executive and Artistic Director


Royal Theatre