So what does go on inside the Arts Council, Mr Bazalgette?

He failed to mention or defend the seemingly outrageous use of public money

Share

Timing is everything in the arts, though not it seems in the Arts Council, the quango that funds much of this country’s culture.

Timing is everything in the arts, though not it seems in the Arts Council, the quango that funds much of this country’s culture. Its new chairman, Peter Bazalgette, gave his inaugural lecture on Budget day, and the coverage was predictably minimal. Strange that none of the myriad advisers at the Council bothered to point out to Mr Bazalgette that there might be better days to make a splash.

But let us not completely ignore such an important event. My appetite for the lecture was whetted by the fact that, only a few days before, a story broke in the press of how the Council, while cutting grants to hard-pressed arts organisations, was giving some of its own staff taking redundancy six-month paid sabbaticals to sweeten the pill. I’d have been interested to learn how Mr Bazalgette defended such a seemingly outrageous use of public money. But curiously he failed even to mention it.

He did mention business, saying it should do more to support the arts. He did rightly heap praise upon the current state of artistic endeavour, he did in a sophisticated speech, detail how new partnerships were evolving between arts organisations and their local economies. But perhaps a little introspection might have gone a long way. Perhaps the chairman of the Arts Council could have talked about the Arts Council.

For let’s face it, few people really know how this quango works. We know that it is terribly important and powerful, for when the elected arts minister is asked a question in Parliament, time and again he replies “that is a matter for the Arts Council.” But how the Arts Council goes about its business is something of a mystery, even to those who spend their lives working in the arts. How does it decide which bodies to fund, which bodies to cut? We don’t know because its meetings are closed to press and public. What a pity that Mr Bazalgette did not use his inaugural address to state that henceforth those meetings would be open. What a pity he did not use it to explain what the overarching policy was behind its funding decisions. Is it to fund fewer better, to share the misery of the cuts, to concentrate more on particular art forms? How does it balance its various roles as funder and advocate for the arts, recipient of government money (and appointments) and critic of the government?

The man who brought Big Brother to British television is clearly not short on imagination or innovation. I hope that his next speech gives an imaginative   vision for the future of his own organisation, a vision that will make it more democratic, transparent and accountable. And he should be open and direct in responding to press stories about some of the Council’s stranger practices, and let us know how he will resolve them. Now that would make a must-hear speech. 

There are bigger things in life than acting

Actresses did well in a survey this week to discover who were the most inspiring and spirited women. Rather too well. Dame Judi Dench occupied first place, Dame Helen Mirren was second, both of them beating, bizarrely, the likes of Emmeline Pankhurst, Florence Nightingale and Margaret Thatcher. But do any of the 4,000 women surveyed to find these role models really know much about Judi Dench or Helen Mirren? They know the roles they play, I’m sure they admire Jane Tennison in Prime Suspect, but she is not Helen Mirren, any more than M or Cleopatra is Judi Dench. We know very little about their private lives and personalities, what inspires them or how “spirited” they are off stage and off camera. They may be decidedly unspirited. They are both brilliant actresses, and that in itself is indeed an inspiration. But let’s keep a sense of perspective about acting. The suffragettes did more to change lives. Nursing in the Crimea demanded more spirit.

Would the censor allow a film about the Bolshoi?

The head of the Bolshoi is attacked by someone throwing acid at him, a dancer is arrested and appears in court in connection with the offence, and the most recent twist has a former Bolshoi ballerina making an allegation (denied by the company) that the Bolshoi is a “giant brothel” with some ballerinas told they must entertain and sleep with oligarchs or they will not be allowed to perform. I recall that when the Natalie Portman (left) film Black Swan came out with a plot that included company jealousies, sexual harassment and lashings of actual sex, dancers lined up to say what an absurd picture of ballet company life it gave. True, it was far too understated.

d.lister@independent.co.uk

twitter.com/davidlister1

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Operations Manager

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An exciting opportunity to join...

Recruitment Genius: Recruitment Consultant

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: We have an excellent role for a...

Recruitment Genius: IT Support Analyst - Bristol

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: An IT Support Analyst is required to join the ...

Austen Lloyd: Senior Private Client Solicitor

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: SURREY - An outstanding high level opportunity...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Should parents be allowed to take pictures at nativity plays?  

Ghosts of Christmas past: What effect could posting pictures of nativity plays have on the next generation?

Ellen E Jones
The first Christmas card: in 1843 the inventor Sir Henry Cole commissioned the artist John Callcott Horsley to draw a card for him to send to family and friends  

Hold your temperance: New life for the first Christmas card

Simmy Richman
The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

The 12 ways of Christmas

We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

The male exhibits strange behaviour

A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'
Marian Keyes: The author on her pre-approved Christmas, true love's parking implications and living in the moment

Marian Keyes

The author on her pre-approved Christmas, true love's parking implications and living in the moment
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef creates an Italian-inspired fish feast for Christmas Eve

Bill Granger's Christmas Eve fish feast

Bill's Italian friends introduced him to the Roman Catholic custom of a lavish fish supper on Christmas Eve. Here, he gives the tradition his own spin…
Liverpool vs Arsenal: Brendan Rodgers is fighting for his reputation

Rodgers fights for his reputation

Liverpool manager tries to stay on his feet despite waves of criticism
Amir Khan: 'The Taliban can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'

Amir Khan attacks the Taliban

'They can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'
Michael Calvin: Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick