David Lister: The Week in Arts

Now you can support the arts by getting drunk
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The Independent Online

The first sentence of the memorable press release from the Royal Opera House, written in the icy tone of a humourless bank manager, is worth quoting. It says: "With immediate effect the spectacular glass atrium on the Bow Street side of the site will revert to its former name - the Floral Hall. The prefix Vilar will disappear from all printed material, and signage around the building will be altered over the forthcoming months."

Signor Vilar can't be too surprised at his public humiliation. He has actually paid £4.4m of a £10m pledge (and for that his name will remain on the donor and benefactors' board) but he failed to meet a 60-day deadline to pay the remainder. So off the Floral Hall wall he jolly well goes.

It's like old times, sponsorship of the arts being controversial. It has been about 20 years since it was a matter for debate and juicy stories: remember the company which withdrew from sponsoring the National Theatre production of 'Tis Pity She's a Whore because the chairman's wife had a fair idea what the jokes might be over interval sherry. Remember the cigarette company which withdrew its sponsorship proposal after discovering the play concerned was called You Can't Take It with You.

But what about the Royal Opera House's part in this latest debacle? Our humourless bank manager might want to point out that it's a good idea to have a donor's cash upfront before making him promises of cultural immortality.

Never mind. The Royal Opera House has already secured another intriguing financial deal. It has gone into partnership with a wine-shipping company and is launching the Royal Opera House Wine Collection. As a member of the mailing list, I received the following wonderfully overblown missive from the ROH chief executive, the redoubtable Tony Hall. It says: "Wine has for centuries invoked culture, history and shared enjoyment, providing a tangible link with the people, the places and the traditions of those involved in growing and making. And every bottle opened is a memory of the warmth and sunshine of its year. The Royal Opera House is delighted to introduce to its Friends and supporters a range of wines embodying these elements, wines made by artists and artisans with pride and feeling." And so it goes on for a whole page, including, of course, the cultural link: "By ordering and drinking these wines you will be supporting The Royal Opera and The Royal Ballet." I shall consider it my duty to get legless to prove myself a true aesthete.

Our national arts institutions need money, and they need sponsorship where they can get it. But I do wonder if they don't sometimes ignore the obvious. Virtually every young girl seems to learn ballet at some stage, so why on earth doesn't the Royal Ballet launch a range of ballet shoes and clothing under its own name?

That would have a clear logic. I'm not 100 per cent sure that the Royal Opera House should have a sideline as a wine merchant. And I am 100 per cent sure that next time it has a promise of millions of pounds from a would-be sponsor, it sees the colour of his money before writing his name across one of the most famous cultural edifices in Britain.

Just one more thing about Dylan

The BBC's Arena team is rightly pleased with its part as co-producer of the compelling two-part film on Bob Dylan this week. But before it basks in too much glory, I have a couple of questions to ask. As the BBC pointed out in its press releases, Bob Dylan gave 15 hours of interviews for the film. We couldn't have seen more than about 15 minutes at the most. We Dylan fans would like to see the rest some time, and soon please. It can be in the small hours on BBC4, but let's be having it.

Also, it was marvellous to see at last snatches of film of the 1966 "Judas" concert from the Manchester Free Trade Hall, which aficionados have been crying out to see for decades. But as film of the concert exists, can we not have the whole concert please? A DVD of it by the end of the year would be nice. It's good work so far by the BBC, but, in some respects, we ain't seen nothing yet.