The Week in Arts: We need to show why the arts are important

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The Independent Online

It emerged this week that a group of cultural leaders had been at a meeting with the Prime Minister to convince him of the need to increase arts funding. They failed. The arts are effectively to have a spending freeze, with a standstill grant from government to the Arts Council.

Oh to have been a fly on the wall at that Downing Street summit. I can only hope that our cultural leaders were not as modest inside it as they were in their comments about it.

Nicholas Hytner, the head of the National Theatre, said: "I don't think we deserved another big increase. However ..." Well, if I were Tony Blair I'd probably have stopped listening there and then and turned my thoughts to another lobby which felt it did deserve a big increase.

Even more curious were the words of Sir Nicholas Serota, director of the Tate. He said: "I'm disappointed that they have failed to recognise that the arts and culture are a really important component of people's lives, and I'm disappointed that I clearly have failed to make that case strongly enough. I see it as my failure as much as theirs."

Gosh. I hope Sir Nicholas steers clear of the dozens of disappointed Arts Council clients after such a disarmingly frank admission of blame.

But actually I don't blame him. Explaining why the arts are vital to the nation is desperately difficult. I recall a Conservative arts minister, Richard Luce, at a public debate at the Edinburgh Festival, when one spectator asked: "You keep saying the arts are important. Why are they?" The minister looked stumped. You weren't meant to ask that question. But people do, not least at Downing Street summits.

Arguments for more money for the arts tend to veer from the vague and vaguely beautiful - the arts improve the quality of life and help us understand ourselves and the world - to the more easily quantifiable if utilitarian evidence of inner-city regeneration. And every so often we get the frankly surreal. I refer to the current arts minister, Estelle Morris, who has claimed that the arts cut down crime.

The bewildering fact remains that the most articulate people in the land have difficulty in making the case that they instinctively feel. To lovers of the arts it seems obvious that they are vital and need to be funded better. But governments demand something more tangible. What we need is a template argument. Before the next Downing Street summit there should be an arts advocacy summit so that we can all complete the sentence: The arts are important because ...

Going down under to film the highlands

Tomorrow's BBC dramatisation of Kidnapped starring Iain Glenn and Paul McGann, promises some breathtaking panoramas of the Scottish landscape. Sort of. The series was actually filmed in New Zealand. Robert Louis Stevenson is entitled to turn in his grave.

Elaine Sperber, an executive producer of the series and head of drama for children at the corporation, tells Radio Times: "The problem with filming in Scotland at the height of the tourist season is finding space. We felt this was a story that went way beyond the average television drama, so we were looking for the sort of big, panoramic views that did it justice. In Scotland there was always a telegraph pole or a pylon or a caravan where you didn't want it."

Hollywood producers will no doubt take note of Ms Sperber's words the next time the British Film Industry tries to lure them over here to film. The last time I looked there were considerable swaths of the Scottish highlands untroubled by caravans and pylons, though I admit the weather is not as pleasant as in New Zealand.

¿ At this time of year, I feel for Robert Redford. In the Oscars season it is de rigueur for someone, no everyone, to cite Redford's movie Ordinary People as one of the most undeserving best picture winners ever.

Its unpopularity is cemented by the fact that in 1980 it beat Raging Bull, one of Scorsese's best.

The latest attack on Ordinary People came yesterday in a list of the most undeserving winners ever. And so at this time of year those of us who unforgivably rather liked the film, its insights into suburban middle class life and its genuinely moving exploration of a family torn apart, keep our heads down.

But next year, give Redford a break. Find another movie to diss.

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