The most important meeting for the arts this year took place a few days ago at 11 Downing Street.
Some of culture's leading figures had a private session with the Chancellor of the Exchequer about the coming cuts. I'm told that the various worthies left feeling pretty queasy. I'm also told that the Chancellor felt a little queasy too after his first showdown with the arts world.
Each of the guests, I am told, fought his or her own corner, but to little avail. Neil MacGregor, head of the British Museum, pleaded the case for the value of cultural diplomacy. Another leading figure stressed the importance of his institution's education department, to which the Chancellor George Osborne apparently replied that he had just closed hundreds of schools, (presumably a reference to the school buildings programme rather than actual closures). But we get the picture. The Chancellor didn't want individual pleadings.
Perhaps he expected the leaders of the arts world to have formed a concerted strategy, and perhaps he is right. Perhaps he expected them to come up with some suggestions for cuts, and again perhaps he is right. The time for special pleading might well be over. And I'm not even sure that the public call by cultural leaders two days ago for government to recognise the benefits of the arts to the economy is the best approach either.
I suspect that Mr Osborne was looking for some radical suggestions and was disappointed not to hear any. The sad truth is that the arts world doesn't do radical very well. And that's not to say that the 25 to 30 per cent cuts being asked for in the arts are not going to be awful. They are. And let's shout loudly that this is not the start of the cuts for the arts. Every year for the past four years, £30m has been taken from the Arts Council to help to fund the Olympics.
It's a bleak scenario. But while the arts world is right to stress the damage the cuts will do, it also has a duty to come up with some alternatives.
Instead we have the V&A announcing a multi-million pound extension. We have Tate Modern and the National Theatre planning to go ahead with their multi-million pound extensions and redevelopments. That's fantasy land. Peter Bazalgette, a major figure in television, suggested this week that arts institutions should band together to offer an arts donor card which would offer private views, lectures and other benefits to individual givers. That's the sort of idea that the arts world could usefully come up with itself.
I have another. Why do we not have a tourist tax, a bed tax in hotels, so that the tourists who make ample use of our (often free) art galleries and museums could pay a tax to be channelled directly to those institutions? Radical thinking from the arts is essential if the Government is not to do it for them, with wretched consequences.
Someone teach this man some manners
How to win friends and influence people: I visited the Umbria Jazz festival in Italy this week, where I found the talk among aficionados was about the jazz legend Keith Jarrett, who managed to alienate festival-goers and organisers with the speech he gave before his last performance there a couple of years ago and has not been back since. This moment, which received little or no publicity, at the time had the undoubtedly brilliant pianist coming on, then walking to the front of the stage to make a little speech.
"I don't speak Italian," he snarled, which wasn't a great start, but it got worse. He went on: "If any of you assholes take photographs I will leave this goddam city." Mr Jarrett's piece of charm school performance can be found on YouTube. It is worth studying as a masterclass in how to lose an audience before playing a note.
Mind you, the start to his recent concert in London was almost as impressive. Coming on to a standing ovation, he waited until it had died down before saying to the audience impatiently: "Are you done?"
Fact, faction and the use of poetic licence
I don't quite get the forthcoming BBC2 drama documentary When Harvey Met Bob. It is going to be a dramatisation of the making of the 1985 Live Aid show and will star Domhnall Gleeson as Bob Geldof and Ian Hart as the promoter Harvey Goldsmith. But why? The two gents are still very much around, still voluble and look not that dissimilar to their 1985 personae. So why not have a real documentary? There have been ones before, of course, but there's always new points to discuss – such as the backlash to Live Aid's successor Live 8 when Damon Albarn criticised the lack of African music.
Well, perhaps the dramatisation of the Geldof/Goldsmith phone calls and meetings and drawing up of contracts will be more dramatic than I anticipate. But even if they are, it's using a lot of dramatic licence to have the slim, svelte Ian Hart play Harvey.Reuse content