Letter: Lottery awards divide the arts

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The Independent Online
From Mr Ian H. Milton

Sir: Naturally, Simon Rattle (letter, 26 July) would like to pretend that there is a consensus in the arts world in favour of lottery money for all, including pounds 3.7m for his orchestra, as well as pounds 55m (with more to come) for the Royal Opera House. His "trickle-down" argument was used by the small, self-perpetuating elite who dominate the arts in this country for years before the lottery came along, and it is now very convenient to justify their hogging the bulk of available funds, as they have done in the past.

This argument is no more valid in the arts than it is in the economy generally; it is the cultural side of the economic policy of fleecing the struggling majority to pay for the obscene luxuries of the rich, which of course is what the lottery was designed to do.

I'm biased: I was recently made redundant as director of a small youth arts centre, after 15 years of seeing community and youth arts being systematically eroded. My last action before leaving was to obtain a copy of the guidelines for applications for lottery funding for the arts, to hand over to the young voluntary group who would now be running the centre. The labyrinthine, bureaucratic requirements for partnership funding, professional budgeting, architect's plans, etc., create a built-in bias in favour of large organisations like the ROH and against small, struggling ones.

More importantly, the restriction of funding to capital projects gives even more preference to the establishment arts, which have comparatively secure revenue but require absurdly vast amounts of space and all the panoply of technology, sets, costumes, administration, etc., that go with it. In small-scale and community arts, while buildings and equipment are important, it is the people who come first: the artists who can enable and share their skills with others so that they may practise the arts themselves, instead of remaining passive consumers. There are thousands of such artists throughout the country whose talents are being wasted for lack of support.

The pounds 55m given to the ROH could have been used to establish and run a hundred or more community arts centres, and create hundreds of jobs, all over the country, instead of yet again in London.

I enjoy the classical arts, including Sir Simon's performances; but I have had to recognise that they are at best irrelevant, and at worst positively alienating, to the vast majority of people, precisely because of the elitist and superior aura surrounding them. Only when and if lottery money and other arts subsidies are used equally across all sections of the community - and all art-forms - will they "bring together the different strands of our society"; at the moment they are dividing them ever further.

Yours faithfully.

Ian H. Milton


26 July