David Lister: The Week in Arts

Where have all our artistic directors gone?
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The Independent Online

Should the next manager of the England football team be English or at least British? Does it matter at all if he is a foreigner?

Whatever your view, the matter has been debated at great length. It's curious how there is not a word of such debate in the arts, though more and more leading arts posts are going to practitioners from abroad. This week a new director of the Edinburgh Festival was appointed. He is an Australian, Jonathan Mills, who currently runs the Melbourne Festival. I know nothing about the Melbourne Festival, and can only take my hat off to Edinburgh city councillors, who clearly follow the Australian arts scene much more closely than I do.

I gather that Mr Mills's closest rival for the post was a Belgian. Perhaps the Edinburgh burghers gave it to Mr Mills because they figured he would feel at home among so many Australians in the British arts scene. The chief executive of the Wales Millennium Centre is an Australian, as is the head of the South Bank Centre in London, as is the executive director of the English National Opera. The artistic director of Liverpool City of Culture is also Australian, and also used to run the Melbourne Festival. (That must be quite a festival they have there.) The head of Tate Modern is Spanish; the new head of the Hayward Gallery is from New York.

Does it all matter? Certainly, in some cases, as for example with Michael Lynch at the South Bank Centre, the result of the appointment is increased stability. Also, of course, the arts, unlike a national football team, are not engaged in direct international competition. And some British-trained arts administrators go to high-level jobs abroad.

But while there is every reason why, say, the head of Tate Modern should be from abroad and be someone familiar with artistic currents in Europe, it's odd that other top jobs in the arts can't find homegrown talent, particularly when they are jobs made to promote their locality.

Radical as this may sound, shouldn't a Liverpudlian be trumpeting the virtues of Liverpool as Europe's next city of culture? Is there really no Welsh arts person able to guide the Wales Millennium Centre in its role as both an international arts venue and, significantly, a venue that gives a showcase to Welsh culture? Liverpool and Wales are two parts of the United Kingdom with a fierce sense of local pride and a distinctive cultural identity. Perhaps they are the two parts of the United Kingdom of which that can be most vigorously asserted.

Certainly, in Wales there is insufficient sign so far of the impressive new building hosting shows with a sufficiently Welsh flavour or doing enough to promote the indigenous culture. It would be wrong to have just that - Cardiff deserves an international arts venue as much as anywhere else - but the promise at the outset was that the venue would also celebrate the Welsh culture.

The arguments for a Scot to head the Edinburgh Festival are hazier, as this has always been an international celebration rather than a Scottish one. But it would have been nice to think that there was one British cultural figure who could have run Britain's greatest arts jamboree.

Has our development of artistic directors really been so woeful that we can't fill some of the most prized cultural posts in the country with homegrown talent? It has now become the norm to look outside the UK when seeking a cultural leader. That is bizarre, and it is doubly bizarre when the post demands intimate knowledge of the culture and spirit of a particular part of the UK.

Credit where it's hardly due

Abi Titmuss made her West End stage debut this week in a revival of Arthur Miller's minor work Two Way Mirror. Titmuss, right, played the actress, thought to be modelled to some degree on Miller's ex-wife Marilyn Monroe, and wore a Monroe-style wig in one of the two one-act plays. But I wonder if the demanding Monroe herself would have ever requested quite the number of programme credits that surround Miss Titmuss. Here they are in their full modesty: John Galliano and Alexis Roche at Christian Dior Couture, Paris, for dressing Miss Titmuss; Taylor/Herring for Miss Titmuss's PR; Gary Williams for voice coaching; Kate Bamber for Miss Titmuss's make-up; John Birchall for Miss Titmuss's hair.

But Mr Birchall's efforts do not seem to have been enough, for there is also in the programme an insert on buff paper with a decorated border saying: "With special thanks to Janice Tee for Miss Titmuss's hair and styling." The payroll would have bankrupted a subsidised theatre - if not a small country.

* The death of Jack Wild, who played the Artful Dodger in Oliver!, prompted a feature in this paper yesterday on the curse of Oliver!. But it wasn't just the film's stars who met untimely deaths. An early Artful Dodger in the original stage show was Steve Marriott, who founded the Small Faces and Humble Pie before dying in a fire at his home caused by him smoking in bed. Georgia Brown, who played Nancy in the stage show, died from complications following surgery and is sadly all but forgotten.

And, of course, there was the composer, Lionel Bart. He descended into bankruptcy and alcoholism and sold the rights to Oliver! for a song. They eventually ended up with Sir Cameron Mackintosh, who revived the show at the London Palladium and gave Bart a share of the royalties. That generous gesture ensured that Bart lived out his last years with dignity.

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