Make the arts accessible for all

Click to follow
The distribution of lottery money to the arts is, inadvertently, bringing the arts world into disrepute, particularly because the majority of working-class people, who buy most tickets, cannot see any benefit for themselves.

The arts are in such bad odour it is impossible to campaign for them. While I was on a march through Lancaster earlier this year, protesting about the closure of Lancashire's only Theatre in Education team, citizens called out as we passed: "What are you lot complaining about? You've got the lottery money."

There is little understanding that lottery money is exclusively for buildings and equipment, and not for the, mainly poorly-paid, artist. With the huge returns from the lottery the arts world faces the prospect of lots of new and beautifully equipped buildings with little or no activities inside them.

Yesterday's grant of pounds 55m of lottery money to the Royal Opera House brought a barrage of accusations that the rich are being indulged in their pastimes with hard-earned working class money, and, worse, this is at the expense of worthier causes such as cancer research.

This emotive comparisonshould not have to be made. Britain should be able to afford a couple of well-equipped opera houses of international standard in its capital.

However, those opera houses, and indeed all subsidised arts organisations, should be genuinely accessible to those who pay for them through the lottery. Yet, for one-third of the population, they are not available. The usual concessions do not bring ticket prices within reach of most students, pensioners, or anyone on state benefit.

The criteria for distribution of lottery money have become untenable. A new strategy must be evolved, particularly as the lottery money available to the Arts Council is now likely to be pounds 400m per year compared to the pounds 200m the Arts Council currently has to distribute.

I propose that one-third of the lottery money should go, as now, to buildings, for amateur and professional use, but that the practitioners involved have more say over what developments they think will be of benefit.

Another third should go to artists, in particular to raise salaries and offer more employment, with an emphasis on education and innovative and community work, which are the seed-beds for all the arts.

The final third should be for audiences, with the encouragement of schemes to break down the often hidden barriers which surround the arts. Above all, prices must be radically lowered.

What a revolution that could cause in the well-being of the nation, and in the development of the arts as its greatest asset.

Philip Hedley

Artistic Director, Theatre Royal, Stratford East