`Artless' libraries are deprived of lottery cash

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The Independent Online
Libraries have been told they will not qualify for lottery money because they do not promote literature as an art form, according to the Arts Council.

It has decreed that while museums, art galleries, theatres and films are eligible for a share of its multi-million pound fund, libraries are not because they do not play an "active" role in promoting literature. But venues which are deemed to perform this function - such as "literature centres" - do qualify.

Jeremy Newton, the Arts Council's national lottery director, said yesterday: "We would consider applications for literature centres where writers hold workshops or classes and readings take place - where literature is presented directly to the public.

"That is active promotion of literature as an art form. But that is not what I would see libraries as doing."

He admitted that the rule of thumb for deciding eligibility was whether a lottery application would better enable "the arts to be practised, promoted or presented to the general public". Unless libraries asked for funds specifically to help with the presentation of concerts or exhibitions, they would not fulfil this criterion, he said.

His comments provoked a furious reaction from the Library Association, which is battling against relentless cuts by local authorities to book funds, library staff and opening hours.

"It's absolutely crazy. Public libraries are the main places which promote contemporary literature. They're the most popular cultural institutions in the country," said Ross Shimmon, the chief executive.

"They constantly have writers in residence, literature festivals, displays and exhibitions - all kinds of active promotional activities to encourage people to discover literature."

His outrage was echoed by Mark Fisher, Labour's shadow arts minister, who said public libraries were desperately in need of investment. "It's crazy. Undoubtedly the cornerstone of British culture is literature. That seems an extraordinary claim by the Arts Council."