Amateurs may get state arts cash

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BRITAIN'S first national arts strategy will recommend that government money be channelled into networks of local choirs and amateur dramatic societies.

It also says that the funding system should change to include low-interest loans as well as grants to arts organisations. Theatres, concert halls and galleries in need of repair should be refurbished under a special millennium programme by 2000.

The strategy, drawn up by the Arts Council on the instructions of the Government, will be published later in the year. But a leaked copy of the document shows that, for the first time, public money will be given to amateur and community arts - a promise made despite many professional companies, including the Royal Opera House, being in deficit on their current grants.

Peter Brooke, the new Secretary of State for National Heritage, will be sent the document today. He will find that on many pressing issues the strategy document is imprecise, giving no concrete proposals for gaps in arts provision such as a national dance house. The strategy does not deal with museums at all.

It is equally silent on other key issues, such as whether the Government should play a strategic and planning role in major developments such as the Royal Opera House and South Bank Centre rebuilding plans. There is no mention either of how much provision there should be in the regions, or the whole question of what should be the responsibilities of the Government, local government and the funding quangos such as the Arts Council.

On last night's edition of BBC 2's The Late Show a panel of senior arts figures called for an alternative strategy that spelled out how much money should be spent on the arts and also called for a national policy to keep ticket prices down. There is no mention of any pricing policy in the strategy document.

The document, A Creative Future - A Strategy For The Arts, Crafts and Media in Great Britain, was commissioned by the Government two years ago. It has involved wide consultation and cost pounds 250,000.

The strategy promises increased investment in film and video production, though it does not say how much. It also promises, among other initiatives, funds for assisting black companies to run their own buildings.

Colin Tweedy, director of the Association for Business Sponsorship of the Arts, said it was clear any national arts strategy 'must be written by the Secretary of State who actually has the power to make decisions, rather than a body like the Arts Council'.

The strategy pledges 'advocacy and lobbying' rather than any defined action to secure mandatory grants for students on arts courses.

Praveen Moman, former political adviser to the arts minister, said that he did not think there was much chance of the Government agreeing to any financial package for the amateur arts. And Simon Mundy, director of the National Campaign for the Arts, said that a national strategy must address the question of provision.

'Thorny problems such as whether Birmingham should have an opera house, or Bristol an orchestra have to be tackled even if that proves trickier than woolly statements promising advocacy and support,' he said.

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