Letter: Destructive reform at the Arts Council

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The Independent Online
From Mr Michael Daley

Sir: It was a surprise to see Sir Roy Shaw emerge from retirement to join the harrying of our Heritage Minister (Letters, 21 March). Stephen Dorrell's aesthetic abstinences pose less of a threat to art than did Sir Roy's enthusiastic innovations, when secretary general of the Arts Council during the Seventies. His determination to create a safe career structure for (very many) Arts Council-trained administrators was doubly destructive. First, it diverted scarce resources from artists and art organisations. And then, more seriously, it undermined procedures of artistic evaluation.

The kind of people who were sucked into career arts administration found aesthetic judgements hopelessly messy and vexing. Pseudo-political criteria were found more useful: artists were supported not because their work was good but because it was somehow subversive or "challengingly difficult". Today, even avant gardism must wear racial, social or gender clothes.

Sir Roy was known to be out of sympathy with many Arts Council fundings in his own day. Can he not see a connection between his own reforms and the perversely blinkered anti-aestheticism that now prevails at the Arts Council?

Yours faithfully,


Director, ArtWatch International

East Barnet, Hertfordshire