Creatives and bean counters should snuggle up

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The Independent Online

I was asked to be an exhibit in the Dome. Some bright spark thought the money zone needed a few "colourful City characters", and for some reason they thought of me. This last phrase was exactly why I turned down the offer. It made me suspicious that the invitation had more to do with my collection of a thousand ties than with my incisive market insight.

I was asked to be an exhibit in the Dome. Some bright spark thought the money zone needed a few "colourful City characters", and for some reason they thought of me. This last phrase was exactly why I turned down the offer. It made me suspicious that the invitation had more to do with my collection of a thousand ties than with my incisive market insight.

Like most people, I haven't been inside the place. I won't therefore attack its content, and I certainly won't attack the idea. After all the sums of public money involved are pretty small in the context of the Government's budget - compare this week's £47m bail-out of the Dome with the £100m the MoD spent on shells that blow up in the guns. And if we can't do something to mark the turn of the millennium then we really are in a sorry state.

Nonetheless, like most people I was totally shocked by the shortcomings in basic business management revealed by the new chairman, the thrusting workaholic, David James. He showed that no proper record had been kept of assets or contracts (imagine 2,800 contracts signed without proper record). These revelations in turn gave Nomura the chance to pull away the commissioners' safety net on Tuesday by withdrawing from its purchase of the site.

Up until then, Nomura's thrusting workaholic, Guy Hands, had been the Dome's white knight. Now he has effectively killed the project. Guy and I are college contemporaries, though he is a dim memory of my misspent youth. While I was staying up until four or so in the morning misbehaving at student drama parties, he was already making an early start in business. Now he is getting up at four in the morning to shoot white elephants and destroy what's left of the Government's reputation on this issue. At least his decision will have pleased another student contemporary - William Hague. Guy found time to be his best man.

The interesting question is whether the apparent lack of business management in this project is not a symptom of a more general problem in publicly sponsored arts and entertainment. What is the state of the relationship between the business world and the arts?

It would be interesting to know how many arts boards have financially aware "outsiders", indeed how many keep a balance between all three of the core disciplines of management - finance, marketing and production. I suspect they are dominated by the third (production is so glamorous in this context).

I once sat on the development board of a first-class theatre. Artistically the work we produced was outstanding. Financially, the theatre was falling down about our ears - literally. At one point the roof was about to fall in and there was a crisis meeting. A celebrated playwright on the board dismissed the apologetic finance director's pleas for raising more money with a sweeping hand: "I don't care if we perform in a shed, as long as we don't give in to Mammon."

Not giving in to Mammon no longer washes. The past 10 years have seen a courting of business sponsorship on an unprecedented scale as well as good old-fashioned corporate hospitality. Not that this is always welcomed. While football clubs fall over themselves to encourage corporate hospitality, the arts seem often to "put up with it". When the new Covent Garden was created it was decided there would be no drinking in the boxes, one music man said it would do the company chairmen good to go and fight in the public bar with the rest of us. Imagine if I spoke about my clients like that.

Sadly, this is symptomatic of a more general misunderstanding that borders on hostility.

There was a party after a gallery opening last week and I was being chatted up by one of the "artists of today". We discussed bleeding heads and Russian mazes and all was going swimmingly well until I was asked that question, "what do YOU do?" One mention of the c word - the City - and I was out for the count. The look was a mixture of hostility and boredom. Why is it that in some arts circles saying you work in the City is a bit like saying you are an undertaker?

It's time for the creatives and the bean counters to get a bit closer. Thanks to increased business sponsorship and the very considerable National Lottery funding, more money than ever is flowing in to the arts. This money must be well spent, and spent in a way that appeals to consumers.

This doesn't mean dumbing down. Contrast the Dome's failed attempt to replicate Disneyworld with the unashamedly high-brow and astonishingly successful Tate Modern gallery - that will be this millennium's monument.

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