David Lister: The Arts Council has sex on the brain

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The Independent Online

Do you want to be on the board of an arts organisation? Well, first of all, disclose whether you are straight or gay. And do you have any lurking tendencies towards feminism? The Arts Council asks such questions when deciding whether or not to give money to a company. This puzzles me. Well, actually it appals me. But it was more in a state of puzzlement that I tried this week to find out why it is necessary to declare what you get up to in bed if you are invited to sit on the board of the Birmingham Rep or the Arnolfini gallery in Bristol or presumably the Royal Opera, Royal Shakespeare Company, National Theatre, and any arts organisation funded by the Arts Council.

Can one no longer trust a trustee to be a sexually moderate sort of person? And if they are sexually immoderate, does it affect the way they run the company?

At a lunch with the council's new chair Liz Forgan and chief executive Alan Davey this week, I asked why one's sexual preferences should have any bearing on one's ability to sort out the finances, artistic direction, catering and architectural plans of an arts company.

I haven't been the greatest fan of the Arts Council, but I do have hopes of an improvement under Dame Liz. She was an effective chair of the Heritage Lottery Fund, and in a previous life the editor of The Guardian's women's pages, though we won't hold that against her. Not entirely.

Apparently, the view of the Arts Council hierarchy is that the character and sexual preferences of the board could be reflected in the work. Dame Liz said that, for example, "if the board was full of ranting feminists" (it's the way these former editors of The Guardian's women's pages tell 'em) you might get work that is too feminist in outlook. Mr Davey added that the sexual orientation question was asked for the reason that an arts board needed to show that it was heterogeneous and reflected as many parts of society as possible.

I don't buy it. These matters are highly unlikely to influence a company's work. For a start, such decisions tend to be taken by artistic directors rather than boards.

People who are passionate enough about the arts to want to serve on a board, and who give their time and often money to an arts organisation, deserve better than to be treated like this. Matters of sexual orientation are none of the Arts Council's business. It should stop asking such impudent questions immediately.

Alternatively, of course, the leading lights in the Arts Council might want to inform us of their sexual preferences.

I spy a worried man at the theatre...

The Chancellor of the Exchequer, Alistair Darling, was spotted at the Old Vic a few nights ago watching Brian Friel's haunting play Dancing at Lughnasa.

I've got mixed feelings about this. I ought to applaud the fact that he is going to the theatre. But as a citizen worried about the ongoing financial crisis, a part of me thinks he should be spending his evenings at 11 Downing Street, working every hour to solve the mess he and his colleagues have got us into. Perhaps, if he is going to go to the theatre, he should have joined me at Mamma Mia!. We could have both sung along: "All the things I could do, if I had a little money. It's a rich man's world."

Mamma Mia! Abba's gone folky

It was a pretty joyous night at the 10th anniversary performance of Mamma Mia! in London's West end on Monday. The show is a lot more fun than the film; the music was infectious, and producer Judy Craymer threw a first-class party afterwards. There was even a joke from the guys from Abba, who appeared at the curtain call. Bjorn announced that Abba would be "playing at the Drapers' Arms this weekend".

There was laughter for that, and slightly nervous laughter too when Benny then said that he would be playing folk tunes on Hampstead Heath on 4 July. That, we all assumed, was Scandinavian humour, and would probably have them wetting themselves in Stockholm. So, laugh we duly did. Only afterwards did I discover that Benny was being serious. He does indeed have a folk group; they will indeed be playing on Hampstead Heath. No wonder Anni-Frid and Agnetha left the band. They probably saw the folk phase coming.

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