The Week in Arts: If you build it, they will come - but not by bus

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The Independent Online

There are some things that cultural commentators do not talk about. Some things that are too infra dig for aesthetic discussion. Ticket prices used to be one taboo, but I hope I have nagged enough on that subject to show that price does affect people's participation in the arts.

There are some things that cultural commentators do not talk about. Some things that are too infra dig for aesthetic discussion. Ticket prices used to be one taboo, but I hope I have nagged enough on that subject to show that price does affect people's participation in the arts.

Another subject that you won't see examined on the South Bank and Culture shows is transport. What is happening on stage or on the concert platform is, of course, paramount. But getting to and from the venue is important too.

It's an issue that is pertinent this week with the opening of the Wales Millennium Centre. I am an admirer of this striking venue in Cardiff Bay, and it will prove a fine home for the Welsh National Opera as well as a receiving house for numerous international companies. But if you are an aficionado of top quality opera, theatre and dance, then make sure you are an aficionado with a car.

This spanking new centre, several miles outside Cardiff, is not served by a bus route from the city centre; an irregular train service is some distance away; there is no taxi rank and no drop-off point immediately outside the venue; and the car park has space for just 350 cars at a venue seating 1,900.

It's unthinkable that a sports stadium would be built now without integrated transport links. But the arts, for all the lottery money poured into new buildings, too often ignores the means of getting people to and from the venues. Wouldn't it have been a good idea for a proportion of all those millions of pounds spent on new buildings, restaurants, green rooms and dressing rooms to have gone into providing a few taxi ranks? Cardiff is far from alone in being at fault. Try coming out of the National Theatre or South Bank Centre in London and looking for a taxi. Yet there is no thought of a taxi rank in the multimillion-pound redevelopment of the Royal Festival Hall.

I campaigned successfully for a boat service between the two Tate galleries in London. Now I would like to propose a service on dry land. Why not have an arts shuttle bus that can take people without cars to mainline stations at half-hour intervals from the South Bank with all its various music, theatre and film houses? And it's about time the heads of these venues and of the Wales Millennium Centre negotiated with taxi companies for ranks outside the buildings. In the case of the WMC, proper bus and train services are essential too.

It's not much good harping on about increased access to the arts when all it really means is increased access for those with cars.

A louche tradition and a message of love

And now the Evening Standard Theatre Awards, once a highlight of the arts calendar, is taking a turn for the worse. The ceremony later this month will be on stage at the National Theatre. What a pity. Up until now it was a delightful lunch at a London hotel, the hottest ticket in town, and some of the hottest gossip from tables of actors, actresses and directors. By 3pm most were the worse for wear.

At the last one I went to I bumped into the writer Sir John Mortimer on the stroke of 3pm. He asked me if I knew Sinead Cusack. I replied that I knew of the fine actress and that she was sitting on the top table. "Will you tell her that I love her?" he beseeched. I smiled feebly, thinking this a joke, but realised, as he was barring my way out, that he was in deadly earnest.

And so I went back into the room and up to the top table to convey the message to the startled actress. Fortunately, her husband, Jeremy Irons, was not there to shoot the messenger.

¿ On the subject of ticket prices, I came across a novel system for keeping them low on a visit to Singapore last week.

Horse racing is big business in Singapore, and the country's new arts centre has its ticket prices subsidised by a levy from the country's racing Totalisator board.

Now that's an idea that had not occurred to me - a tax on gambling to get new audiences into theatres.

We should try it over here. It would be a surefire way of injecting much-needed funds into the arts and keeping ticket prices affordable.

Also, knowing that they were contributing to the nation's culture would almost make the punters feel better when their horses failed to win. Almost.

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