Arts world disowns Hall's protest group

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The Independent Online
THE STAGE is set, the daggers drawn and the fake blood prepared for a violent theatrical fight. A furious row has broken out about the Shadow Arts Council, the group set up by Sir Peter Hall to oppose the Government's approach to funding.

Luminaries including Sir Simon Rattle, the conductor, Sir Tom Stoppard, the playwright, and Sir Richard Eyre, the director, are livid that they have been cited as patrons of the organisation without giving their permission. Sir Peter Hall has been inundated with letters from the Council's so-called "patrons" asking for their names to be removed from the list of sponsors.

The leading intellectuals and arts figures - many of whom are Labour supporters - are angry that their names have been used on publicity material for a political organisation which they never agreed to back.

The Shadow Arts Council was launched last month as a "platform for argument, dispute and noise" designed to pressure ministers into doing more for theatres, galleries and orchestras. Its chairman is Sir Peter Hall, who launched a manifesto, calling for more elitism in the arts and accusing the Government of dumbing down by promoting pop music and films over theatre, opera and ballet. The move was widely interpreted as a further sign of growing hostility to the Government in the arts world.

However, the Shadow Arts Council now appears to be rapidly falling apart. Sir Peter named dozens of high-profile members of the artistic establishment as patrons.

Most of them had attended a meeting about improving public support for the arts held last year. But they were astonished to then find themselves cited as sponsors of the Shadow Arts Council.

Sir Simon Rattle is among those who has written to Sir Peter complaining that his name was used without permission. "Like a lot of people I didn't know what it was about and I was surprised to see my name on the list of patrons," he said. "I have written to them asking them not to use my name in publicity. I have a lot of sympathy for some of the ideas but I don't necessarily think it is the best way of going about it. The danger is that it is only oppositional and we need to be constructive."

Playwright Sir Tom Stoppard, who wrote the screenplay to the Oscar-winning film Shakespeare in Love, has also sought to distance himself from the group. "He didn't know anything about it," his agent said. "He was not aware that he had agreed to be part of it."

Sir Jeremy Isaacs, Sir Alan Ayckbourn, Sir Harrison Birtwistle and Sir Howard Hodgkin are among the other "patrons" who have told friends that they were not happy to see their names included without their permission.

Labour MPs who were named as sponsors are particularly concerned that they have been publicly linked to a group setting out to criticise the Government. Mark Fisher, the former arts minister, accused Sir Peter of making a "cavalier assumption" that those who were generally supportive of the arts would throw their weight behind him. "The first I heard of this was when I read about it in the papers," he said. "I have some sympathy for what he is saying but he is wrong to direct his anger at the Government. Chris Smith has got all the money he can out of Gordon Brown."

Sir Peter Hall was unavailable for comment.