LETTERS: Art, subsidy and the politics of envy

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From Sir Angus Stirling Sir: At the heart of Robert Maycock's article (17 January) on arts subsidy is the false assumption that the national opera, ballet and drama companies and our orchestras are simply businesses trading in a marketable "product", while smaller arts organisations are offering real art which deserves public subsidy.

The truth is different. The opera and ballet presented to the highest possible standard by our three companies - the Royal Opera, Royal Ballet and Birmingham Royal Ballet - throughout the year are also real art; and are subject to just the same pressures, unpredictable responses and cost implications as the work of smaller companies.

It is an illusion to suppose that size removes the need for subsidy. Quality and accessibility are what matter, and there is no magic that will allow either to be attained by permanent professional lyric theatre companies without a substantial element ofgrant-aid to complement the self-help we all practise.

We, too, have imaginative and successful schools' programmes, training schemes, ticket concession arrangements and touring schedules. Our radio and TV broadcasts are enjoyed by millions of people. All these initiatives cost money, and we raise more than £6m annually from our generous sponsors towards our work. It is not arrogance but a determination to maintain the very best for the audiences of the future that motivates our application to the Arts Council Lottery Board.

The artists who perform at the Royal Opera House take that valuable experience with them throughout the UK and all over the world. Our companies are an integral part of the whole artistic culture of our country. They enhance its reputation overseas. We can and should be proud of them, not treat them like pariahs. To urge that they should be cut off from public subsidy is to deal in the politics of envy.

No conceivable national interest would be gained from such a step, nor would a single other company benefit. When Lord Keynes founded the Arts Council he made explicitly clear the intention to foster and sustain with necessary grant aid the great national companies. Is anyone so naive as to imagine that if the council were no longer able to fulfil that duty, the Government would still provide them with the same amount of money to distribute elsewhere?

Yours faithfully, ANGUS STIRLING Chairman Royal Opera House London, SW1

19 January