Artistic differences

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It's a brave man that lambastes the arts establishment in this country. It's an even braver one who does it from inside. Artists may rubbish each other with a vengeance; but arts administrators never. They are all too dependent on the same handout that feeds them to yap too loudly.

It's a brave man that lambastes the arts establishment in this country. It's an even braver one who does it from inside. Artists may rubbish each other with a vengeance; but arts administrators never. They are all too dependent on the same handout that feeds them to yap too loudly.

So Graham Sheffield, artistic director of London's Barbican Centre, is to be congratulated for calling it as it is. He derides the Royal Academy's Apocalypse exhibition as "hardly apocalyptic". He dares to suggest that the Royal Shakespeare Company does not stage Shakespeare in a contemporary way. He speaks the unspeakable in questioning whether the South Bank Centre will actually be able to fill the new concert hall it plans.

Quite right too. The particular attacks may have an element of the self-serving. The new South Bank hall is, after all, a competitor to the Barbican. But the arts are far too vial to be consensual. Mr Sheffield has made a brave stand in pointing out that public subsidy exists for risk-taking within the context of a coherent artistic policy; and too many institutions neither take risks nor have an identifiable artistic policy. Our advice to him, however, is to let the dust settle before he dines at the Ivy.

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