Arts: arts diary

ONE OF the less appealing aspects of "Creative Britain" is the apparent desire of 10 Downing Street to shield the womenfolk - to borrow a favourite phrase of John Prescott - from works of art.

At the G8 summit this week the wives of the summit leaders were to have had dinner at the newly opened Ikon Gallery in Birmingham. I learn that the Foreign Office had agreed to the venue; and the dinner there was only cancelled after Foreign Office officials took photographs at the Ikon and showed them to Downing Street officials.

What was it at the Ikon that so worried Tony Blair's staff? It was an installation by Nancy Spero, the internationally renowned 73-year-old American feminist artist. In it she explores fetishistic images of women to celebrate female sexuality. The installation largely features ancient motifs of women, some of whom appear to be brandishing dildoes.

To the amazement of staff at the Ikon, they were told shortly before the summit that the venue had been changed. No official reason was given. But unofficially some staff are convinced that 10 Downing Street, and in particular Alastair Campbell, the Prime Minister's press secretary, were alarmed that the tabloid press might make too much of the juxtaposition of the First Ladies and the naked ladies.

Elizabeth Macgregor, director of the Ikon, said last night: "We would have been greatly honoured by a visit and it was good that it was considered. It's very disappointing that the city wasn't able to show off one of its new facilities to the G8 leaders."

I'm loath to believe that Cherie Blair, Hillary Clinton and the other first ladies are really such delicate flowers that they would have had to reach for the smelling salts after seeing Ms Spero's installation. But I can all too readily believe that even in Chris Smith's "creative Britain", the Government's propaganda machine is so worried about tabloid reaction that it not only makes a patronising and condescending gesture to some of the world's most important women - it also passes up a chance to give a new art gallery an international profile.

Nothing to do with me, muttered the Secretary of State for Culture, Chris Smith, when the party-poopers on the Arts Council drama panel ruined his book launch on Thursday night by resigning en masse. Arms' length principle and all that. The council makes its own decisions, Smith reminded us.

But he does not escape entirely. The drama panel chairwoman Thelma Holt, the award-winning West End producer, tells me she was particularly "distressed". She wrote to Smith saying she intended to resign a week ago, and he hadn't bothered to reply.

Such personal snubs can rankle. They can even make people upstage your book launch and embarrass you. To quote a phrase that used to be current in Chris Smith's Islington constituency: "The personal is political."

The films minister Tom Clarke enjoys taking the mickey out of the international press at the Cannes Film Festival. Asked what his favourite film is, he replies Give Us A Goal and then asks the baffled press corps who the director was. Answer: it was none other than Tom Clarke in his youth making a film about his beloved Queen of the South football club. But now the tables have been turned on the minister. The Hollywood Reporter has been making merry at Clarke's expense.

A reporter from the Reporter (imagine having to announce yourself as that on a daily basis) was following Clarke round the film festival, when the minister stopped at a poster for the film Stringer and remarked proudly of the man featured in a pony-tailed white wig: "There's my countryman." It did indeed look a little like Sean Connery - but a lot more like Burt Reynolds, who it in fact was.

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