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Why criticism is good for the Arts Council
As the head of one of hundreds of organisations waiting to hear whether we receive Arts Council funding, I have to admit these are nervous moments writes Martin Bright

My small organisation, New Deal of the Mind, was set up two years ago to help young unemployed people find jobs in the arts and the creative industries. We happen to think this is worth a small amount of government funding. My attitude to the Arts Council will hugely depend on whether or not it is enlightened enough to see the worth of what we do.

And this, I’m afraid, is the Arts Council’s biggest problem. The system of clientelism which it operates means that its servant organisations (many of which are fully dependent on it for their survival) are not in a position to question its driving philosophy or suggest ideas for reform.

Many within the organisation felt aggrieved at the conclusions of the Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee report this week, which decided the Arts Council had, at times, been wasteful with public money. But this was a cross-party committee which had reached a consensus. The Arts Council needs to listen.

The organisation, which has been generous to New Deal of the Mind during our start-up period, remains too sensitive to criticism. Not so long ago we were asked to write a risk assessment of what the media might say if the Arts Council did not do more  to create work for young people trying to break into the sector. We suggested, as carefully as we could, that it might be said that the overpaid fat cat quangocrats of the arts elite had chosen to pass over Britain’s future artists in favour of vainglorious “grands projets”. One hurt and angry senior official called me and to whether I thought she was an “overpaid fat cat quangocrat.” She hasn’t spoken to me since.

As it happens, the individual involved was hugely dynamic, impeccably professional and deeply committed to the future of the arts in this country. She was simply not used to criticism from client organisations.

This situation has to change. Let’s take a small example. It is running joke within the arts that it is impossible to get hold of anyone from the Arts Council on a Friday afternoon. The miracles of flexitime mean that a large number of employees of the organisation simply choose to clock off early at the end of the week. Arts organisations small and large raise a knowing eyebrow, share their frustration at this petty irritation. But no one says a word.

For the full article

The Spectator

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