Spurned Tusa accuses Arts Council

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The Independent Online
JOHN TUSA, managing director of London's Barbican Centre, has attacked the Arts Council for refusing to give his organisation Lottery money while being too friendly towards its rival, the South Bank Centre.

Mr Tusa also questioned the reasoning behind the council's rejection of the Barbican's Lottery application. He says an Arts Council assessor said it was not allowed to consider "value for money" in making decisions. To Mr Tusa's amazement, the council's letter to him complained that he had failed to consult local craftspeople, apparently unaware that few local crafts workers are to be found.

The application by the Barbican, in the City of London, was one of the most modest yet made, for a pounds 100,000 feasibility study to consult architects and designers on improving the centre's much-criticised foyers, signposting and circulation. The feasibility study might then have led to a much larger application for a pounds 7m award to put the changes into practice. But the bid was turned down by the Arts Council, the quango which distributes National Lottery money to the arts.

The South Bank Centre, by contrast, has so far received around pounds 2m in Lottery money and has announced plans for a multi-million-pound sum to transform the centre, which currently houses the Royal Festival Hall, Queen Elizabeth Hall, Purcell Room and Hayward Gallery. It also receives pounds 13.8m a year in running costs from the Arts Council.

The Barbican, by contrast, while home to the London Symphony Orchestra, the Royal Shakespeare Company and an art gallery, receives no annual grant from the Arts Council, although the LSO and RSC do. The centre itself receives pounds 23m from the City of London Corporation.

Mr Tusa, a former head of the BBC World Service, said he felt that the council had become very close to London's other major arts and conference centre and was refusing to see the Barbican as part of its arts strategy.

He added: "When we said that what we were proposing would be great value for money, the Arts Council assessor said: `I'm not allowed to take into account considerations of value for money.' They also said we hadn't consulted local craftspeople enough. They didn't talk about the merits of the scheme."

The Barbican is seeking pounds 15m towards a pounds 30m revamp of the foyers and main concert hall.

"For pounds 4m-pounds 5m you could make an internal change [in the foyer and bar areas] which transformed the place," Mr Tusa said. "The re-signage of six years ago didn't work. And a lot of people think the aesthetic of the decoration is wrong for the building. For pounds 7m or pounds 8m you could have a first-class concert hall. It's one of the cheapest investments in a major concert facility that could have that result.

"This place has changed. We have new audiences, better programming, and I don't this has quite sunk in with the Arts Council. I think they have concentrated on what to do with the South Bank Centre. But if they say they are thinking strategically they have to take us into consideration. It seems to be difficult for them to wrench themselves from an exclusive concern for the South Bank Centre."

The Barbican's last, very successful year has seen a festival of American culture with concerts, plays and exhibitions from leading American writers, musicians and artists.

The Tusa plan would change the signage so that visitors could find their way around more easily, relocate the box office, bars and retail outlets, and update the concert hall.

An Arts Council spokeswoman said the council did not make public reasons for turning down a Lottery application, but clients and non-clients were given equal priority, and the Barbican could apply again in a future phase of Lottery funding.