How far should the state go in financing culture?

 

Many people think that theatre, the  visual arts and music are more than mere entertainment which people should pay for as they wish. Art and music are enveloped in a sense of the good, based on the view that they can stretch, uplift, challenge the mind and enrich the human condition. Such cultural activities are supported in whole or part by public money for the greater good.

Some think this limits the styles of art worthy of support to those deemed generally to be great art. Thus there could be public money to support Shakespeare’s plays or   Mozart’s music, but no public money for modern dance music. The establishment’s view of great art has in the past rested heavily on the view of established critics, but today is also to some extent  influenced by popular opinion when it comes to assessing modern works of the visual arts for display in public galleries.

The presence of public subsidy raises management and moral issues. Is it right, for example, that public subsidy supports the ballet and opera in London which tends to be the preserve of the better off, at least when it comes to most of the dearer seats? Does too much subsidy around the world artificially inflate the returns to a few successful painters, dancers and playwrites?

Is great art bound to be disliked in it own time and in need of state support? Or is great art popular enough to support itself?  Can’t patrons, including the state, provide the money for works of art that are needed and appreciated by those who commission them?

In the UK the premise of public subsidy for the arts is less questioned than the targets for state support. Some think more of the money should be spread widely around the country, helping more facilities outside the big centres and assisting the up and coming. Others think public subsidy does need  to reinforce excellence in the big cities, as part of the tourist attraction and part of the national heritage. Over to you!

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73 Comments

  1. Steve Stubbs
    Posted July 25, 2013 at 6:12 am | Permalink

    No public money should be used to support the performing arts whatsoever.

    Museums and art galleries OK, provided they are then free admission, but the payment of public money to support performing art should NOT happen. Subsidising the grossly overpaid luvvies with my taxes is not acceptable.

    • APL
      Posted July 25, 2013 at 6:45 am | Permalink

      Steve Stubbs: “Subsidising the grossly overpaid luvvies with my taxes is not acceptable.”

      Yep, another lefty subsidy to their own cause out of public funds.

      We could save a ‘shedload’ by abolishing the DCM&S too. Win win!

      • Hope
        Posted July 26, 2013 at 11:50 am | Permalink

        Look at the wasteful BBC, not fit for purpose and always acts beyond its remit. Time for an inquiry to review what is its purpose and whether it should be privatised. This year alone announcements that it has lost £250million punds on an ovspnd for the build, computer system and over paid severance packages. The public cannot afford the BBC liberal/socialist propaganda unit.

        • APL
          Posted July 27, 2013 at 7:15 am | Permalink

          Hope: “The public cannot afford the BBC liberal/socialist propaganda unit.”

          Agreed. But the politicians want an Orwellian Newspeak, so nothing will be done about the monstrous waste of resources.

    • waramess
      Posted July 25, 2013 at 10:42 am | Permalink

      Delete art galleries and I could go along with this view. Let Art galleries obtain any funds through charitable appeals and if insufficient people are interested that is a short sharp answer which should offend nobody.

    • Chris Rose
      Posted July 25, 2013 at 11:27 am | Permalink

      Steve,

      I agree.

  2. Lifelogic
    Posted July 25, 2013 at 6:13 am | Permalink

    Government should, in the main, keep out of it, leave more money with individuals by lowering tax levels and let them fund it either by buying tickets or by making donations. The state sector see the arts as yet another opportunity to raid tax payers money and create pleasant jobs for their family and friends. Government also, in general, want “art” that suits their big state, high tax, pro EU, enforced equality, anti-democratic, distract the voters from the real issues agenda.

    Most great art costs very little to produce painting, books, music scores only opera, large orchestras and some theatre can be expensive. Though often this just results in huge fees for the fashionable “stars” when many others would be just as good or better.

    Subsidy of one art gallery or museum with free entry is unfair competition for any private ones that would clearly need to charge. It thus often kills off the competition and diversity in a similar way to the appallingly run “free at the point of rationing” NHS in medical provision or at the BBC.

    Subsidy is nearly always a very bad idea, but very popular with the largely parasitic sector as it gives them an unfair advantage, kills the competition and allows them to push their unpleasant agendas using your money.

    • Lifelogic
      Posted July 25, 2013 at 10:16 am | Permalink

      Excellent article by Matt Ridley in the times today:- don’t waste £50bn on HS2. How can anyone sensible think it is other than a total waste of money that they do not have anyway.

    • uanime5
      Posted July 25, 2013 at 12:52 pm | Permalink

      How is subsidising one art gallery or museum with free entry unfair competition? Unless the private art gallery or museum has the exact same content they won’t be competing for the same customers.

      • Lifelogic
        Posted July 25, 2013 at 5:16 pm | Permalink

        of course they are largely the same customers just looking for somewhere interesting to pass some time. One is free the other £10 so many choose the former, then the latter has to charge £12 to keep going and it gets even worse so they go out of business.

        • uanime5
          Posted July 26, 2013 at 4:13 pm | Permalink

          If a public museum is about the UK, while the private museum has items from other parts of the world then they’re clearly going to attract different people. Some people are actually interested in certain things in a museum, rather than just looking at everything.

    • Baxman
      Posted July 25, 2013 at 2:07 pm | Permalink

      SKY and ITV push their unpleasant agendas to me in the form of gutter TV. If I want to see a dog drive a car I’ll check out the internet. What again you are pushing for is a race to the bottom for all unless they can afford it like private healthcare. No service is not better than some service. What you would have is no culture whatsoever then you would be complaining about poor quality TV/art. TV or art that you do not watch, use or appreciate anyway.

      • APL
        Posted July 27, 2013 at 7:22 am | Permalink

        Baxman: “SKY and ITV push their unpleasant agendas to me in the form of gutter TV”

        Then you’re a bigger fool for paying for it, let alone watching it.

        Baxman: “What you would have is no culture whatsoever .. ”

        What utter rubbish. The ‘West’ has an extraordinary rich cultural heritage. What you are complaining of is a sort of ‘boxed set’ of culture, prepared largely by middle class ‘do goodders’ and labeled ‘culture’.

        The working class have their own culture, it ain’t ‘high culture’, sure enough, but its theirs.

        In fact, the only group in society that is pretty much devoid of their own culture, is the middle class – they’ve borrowed and stolen from the Aristocracy and holding their noses the proletariat too.

        Baxman’s approved middle class culture? RAM IT!

  3. alan jutson
    Posted July 25, 2013 at 6:15 am | Permalink

    This one is a little more complicated in my view as to where to draw the line.

    I do think our History should be preserved in some form, and it is right in my view to have free entry to our major National Museums.

    But in a similar fashion do the National Trust, payment by entry or Membership, perform a similar task.

    I tend to think that the TATE Modern has the right idea, entry is free, but people are asked if they would like to make a donation.

  4. Mike Stallard
    Posted July 25, 2013 at 6:17 am | Permalink

    What a magnificent European and National outpouring of art we have today! The heirs of Rembrandt, Caravaggio, Goya and Turner are producing paintings and sculpture for the government and receiving money for their efforts, just as the Pope once paid Michelangelo for the Sistine Chapel roof.
    And no wonder, with Commissioner Androulla Vassilou, fresh from her busy round of Cypriot politics and banking, in charge of european Culture! What a wealth of artistic produce she is fertilizing with our money!
    Our own Pope, Maria Miller, who is fresh from her stint in charge of disabled people, is talking to Tracey Emin. And, to support this artistic renaissance, we have equally talented culture officers in every county and city with their credit cards ready too.

    • lifelogic
      Posted July 25, 2013 at 6:37 am | Permalink

      Maria Miller, Androulla Vassilou, Tracey Emin – says it all really.

      • Baxman
        Posted July 25, 2013 at 2:09 pm | Permalink

        Like the rest of your right wing fantasies you would or think you would not be affected by this. You only want want to pay for what you use and do not believe that you benefit from anything you do not use directly like roads in other parts of the country. You would then have the stupidity to complain that the road you use once in a blue moon or regularly is not up to standard for the cost, any cost. Like the arts and anything else.

    • Nick
      Posted July 25, 2013 at 7:38 am | Permalink

      Which state organisations did Rembrant paint for?

      • Bryan
        Posted July 25, 2013 at 10:24 am | Permalink

        The Dutch Orange Household

      • Roy Grainger
        Posted July 25, 2013 at 11:33 am | Permalink

        I assume you are asking because you imagine the answer is “none”. However I happen to know that the answer is “several”. Just to name a famous one, The Conspiracy of Caludius Civilis was commissioned and bought by Amsterdam city council. His paintings were commissioned by several state or quasi-state organisations – as the state sector in his day was (of course) much small than ours today this represented a disproportionate part of his income. Artists of many types have historically been entirely or significantly dependent on state support, if you include patronage by royal families in that definition (Shakespeare for example).

    • uanime5
      Posted July 25, 2013 at 12:55 pm | Permalink

      Given that in the past only the largest landowners had any money and in the feudal system they were also running the country is it any surprise that they commissioned most of the artistic works.

    • Lindsay McDougall
      Posted July 25, 2013 at 6:23 pm | Permalink

      Seems like an unmade bed to me.

  5. Jerry
    Posted July 25, 2013 at 6:29 am | Permalink

    The public funding of the arts and culture will always be contentious, there is no single “correct” answer, for example most would suggest that the state funding and promoting Shakespeare is always correct because he captures our nations history and past, as does Turner or Lowery and thus is very different to the state funding of Opera, a Gogh or a Picasso etc. for example, this before anyone states a dislike any particular style of art or culture and thus will think it a waste of money how ever historically important the work is – many would never argue that the works of the “Sex Pistols” are equal to (say) the works of the Beetles or Benjamin Britten and so on down the list, but in many ways all are equal on historical cultural grounds and thus it would be as wrong for the nation (via the state) not to preserve one but not the others – in 50 to 100 years the “Punk” era will be as important a record as painting of L.S.Lowery are today.

    • Lifelogic
      Posted July 25, 2013 at 10:18 am | Permalink

      It costs almost nothing to read or watch a video of Shakespeare anyway.

      • Jerry
        Posted July 25, 2013 at 7:00 pm | Permalink

        @Lifelogic: Utter rubbish, as you would know if you knew anything what so ever about the costs of making such content for DVDs etc.

        • sm
          Posted July 28, 2013 at 6:52 pm | Permalink

          websearch librivox, plenty culture and no tv tax funded bbc think propaganda.

  6. margaret brandreth-j
    Posted July 25, 2013 at 6:29 am | Permalink

    I travelled down to the Tate modern last year and though when I was a school girl it was the only flicker of talent I had , I thought what a lot of rubbish…(Philistine), yet from a business point of view it had to be noted that there was a continual stream of visitors from all parts of the world happily intellectualising . Whereas my love of art in the home is limited to do the frames match the curtains money in art and the prestige associated with collections must be a boost to the economy I imagine. The state although needs to maintain its utilitarian stance and be functional , it also has to create an ambience of desirability. Outside the Country and within our own nation we want those with enough money to say’ I want it’. Our quaintness as in tradition pulls in visitors from all over and the conservative in me shouts preserve our attraction.
    We understand that the canons rule and many feminists are trying to break down these said masterpieces in all areas of art.(I note that Mr Carney was showing a little prejudice to the contrary yesterday) and it is difficult to even get a foot in the door of new works and opinions.
    To make all round healthy people self expression is better to have than not and if it is channelled into something constructive and it makes money , all good and well.

    Ballet is something I started at the age of 4 ,like many little girls , I danced around until my teacher told my mum to bring me back when I could conform. At 6 yrs old with Madam Peach I began on points and started to develop bunions. It is so boring to watch ballet , yet it appeals to many. I carried on until 16 and it certainly helped deportment. It brings in money.
    Music is another thing all together and whether tastes are heavy rock ,Beethoven ,Bach or Reich , it is a universal pleasure . My world would be sad without it.
    The state should always support that which is ‘good’ but if the private sector can benefit and create wealth out of it , then why not.

  7. Roy Grainger
    Posted July 25, 2013 at 6:33 am | Permalink

    An argument put forward is that if certain things are not funded by the state then they will cease to exist. It is interesting to note that the Globe theatre in London successfully performs sold-out seasons Shakespeare’s plays with no public subsidy at all whereas the RSC gets £16 million a year for doing the same thing, with the same actors and directors, to the same standard. On the whole there should be a move to the USA system of private funding via endowments and so on, but this needs to be linked into yesterday’s discussion on charitable giving and tax relief.

    • Jerry
      Posted July 25, 2013 at 8:00 am | Permalink

      Roy Grainger: But does the Globe theatre do so because it is cheap, or that it sells out to only the wealth, or perhaps because it only performs the more populist of productions whilst the RSC has higher running costs, sells tickets at a discount or provided the whole gamut of plays and not just those that will be popular? The need for funding is not a simple equation.

      • Roy Grainger
        Posted July 26, 2013 at 8:21 am | Permalink

        The answers are all exactly the opposite of what you are implying. The Globe cycles through all of Shakespeare’s plays popular and unpopular (as does the RSC) and has cheaper tickets than the RSC. That it has lower running costs is obvious – like any large state-funded organisation the RSC has a massive permanent bureaucracy to service, not that much of their funding actually ends up on stage.

        • Jerry
          Posted July 26, 2013 at 4:42 pm | Permalink

          @Roy Grainger: I wasn’t implying anything, I was asking, and stop being so defensive about that chip on your shoulder…

  8. Andyvan
    Posted July 25, 2013 at 7:22 am | Permalink

    Public subsidies are always and everywhere a bad thing. Our local Royal Armouries Museum used to be an active experience with volunteers actually firing artillery at regular shows, the exhibits were accessible and people paid to see it. Now it has free entry, hugely expensive visitor centre, exhibits on stands or behind glass and no real feeling at all. The atmosphere has gone and the staff are no longer ex military that could explain and describe, they are just employees that learn a script. That is what excess cash and no drive to please the public has done. The same is true of lots of museums and theaters that no longer have that profit motive that gives the all important customer satisfaction signals. All museums, studios, theaters or visitor centres should pay their way or close. If people will not pay then they are not providing a service and should not be kept open by some elitist drive to spend other peoples money. You want it, then you support it.

    • Lifelogic
      Posted July 25, 2013 at 10:23 am | Permalink

      Indeed, When you subsidise anything you have already destroyed something by taking the tax away from someone else in the first place. Nearly always something better and more important.

  9. Stewart Knight
    Posted July 25, 2013 at 7:23 am | Permalink

    Surprised by it, but have to concur completely with the majority of the above comments.

    These artists are massively rich but still feel their ‘art’ needs subsidy? Most of these white elephant art projects are for the very few and not the masses,

    It sounds culturally unsound, but there should be no subsidy of any kind to the arts or culture, as such, though historical and archaeological subsidy should be made and even increased…mind you get the leftys in and Labour and that would be translated into trashing our history unless it was ethnic or foreign apologies, and that is not racist but an observation of the past Labour Government who tried to make us ashamed of our history and culture while promoting others.

  10. Mike Wilson
    Posted July 25, 2013 at 7:30 am | Permalink

    Let’s go ‘back to basics’.

    At the moment the state is borrowing 120, thousand, million pounds EVERY year. Some of it is being used to subsidise the arts.

    Our children and grandchildren will be paying this money back, and paying the interest on it, all their lives. By the time we get to the point where we no longer have an annual deficit, our debt (at way over a TRILLION pounds) will be proportionately bigger than the debt left after the 2nd world war and it will take 50 years or more to repay (even repaying 20 BILLION a year PLUS interest!).

    So, is this expenditure ESSENTIAL? Clearly, the answer is no.

    If we were all paying tax of say 10% of our income – and we all had lots of money – we could decide whether to spend it going to visit a museum or the ballet. I am sure that if we had low taxes those who love art and culture would create it and consume it.

    Why the government thinks it has to take my money off me and give it to Covent Garden I just really have no idea.

    The state is far too big. It is involved in far too many areas. It is unaffordable. We need real cuts.

    But we’ll cut meals on wheels before we’ll cut our subsidy to Covent Garden.

  11. Nick
    Posted July 25, 2013 at 7:39 am | Permalink

    Since you can’t even fund pensions, why should you be funding the arts?

    For example, what about the DWP that creams off 5% of all money paid out?

  12. J Mitchell
    Posted July 25, 2013 at 7:54 am | Permalink

    It is easy to say that opera and ballet are the preserve of the rich. However, when one pauses to consider the economics of opera and ballet and the size of the companies needed to put on performances in venues that can only hold modest numbers of people, and then contrasts that with the number required to stage a pop concert in an arena venue that holds thousands, it is not difficult to see why some form of subsidy might be required.

  13. Richard1
    Posted July 25, 2013 at 7:57 am | Permalink

    Subsidy is a hindrance to effective management, inuring as it does the management of a subsidized organization from responding to market demands. Look at Glyndebourne (unsubsidized and consistently in surplus) versus the Royal Opera House (subsidized and persistently in financial difficulty). Arts and culture should stand on their own feet. Govt should concentrate on reducing taxes, perhaps on negative tax rates for poorer people and them let people choose to support arts and culture or not. The BBC is another case in point but that needs a post in its own right.

  14. Iain Gill
    Posted July 25, 2013 at 8:02 am | Permalink

    Remove public subsidy completely.

    Opera and ballet will have to survive in the real world.

    There are plenty of people making money in the Arts business. You don’t see Led Zeppelin, Queen, Pink Floyd, The Who and the rest asking for state subsidy. The public are more than prepared to pay directly for art they support.

    And don’t forget to stop the licence fee payments to the BBC too, split it up and make it stand on its own two feet.

  15. English Pensioner
    Posted July 25, 2013 at 9:03 am | Permalink

    I am opposed to the spending of public money on things like Opera, the Theatre or indeed any performing art. Nor should it spend money on the purchase of modern art or the like.
    Why should the government, from taxes, subsidise the interests of a minority, just because someone defines them as “culture”? I have to pay the full price for my interests, which don’t fall in the categories that I mention, so why shouldn’t everyone else? Why not subsidise golf, cricket or football as these are probably more representative of the interests of the people of this country. When it comes to art galleries and the like, any state money should be restricted to historic items, that is works which are still considered to be worth keeping after, say, a hundred years. I suspect much modern “art”, without subsidy, will be long gone and forgotten by then.

  16. Claire
    Posted July 25, 2013 at 9:07 am | Permalink

    Why is the question confined to “culture”?

    Why is it necessary to subsidise sporting events such as the Olympics which have huge economies of scale (80,000 seater stadium and TV coverage) that orchestral concerts, for example, don’t?

    If you want to put an end to subsidies, then fine, but it must be across the board. You can’t pick and choose. I wouldn’t mind paying for concert tickets at pure commercial prices if I didn’t have to subsidise things I don’t make use of – and that includes the cost of patching up people whose idea of “entertainment” is getting involved in a fight every Friday night. But then fighting isn’t wickedly “elitist”, is it?

    This debate would barely get off the ground in Germany, where I lived for 17 years. But then their education system is not only superior in languages, science, engineering and mathematics, they also have a sense of cultural history and continuity that doesn’t result in lazy, predictable, complaints about “luvvies” and an obsession with social class.

  17. Denis Cooper
    Posted July 25, 2013 at 9:09 am | Permalink

    It makes a difference whether there’s educational value or it’s just entertainment.

    So my initial answer to the headline question:

    “How far should the state go in financing culture?”

    would be that the state should be prepared to finance culture insofar as it has educational value and would otherwise not be readily available to those of limited means.

    But I admit that may not be the complete answer, there being some instances where it is hard to identify any specifically educational element but where state funding may still be justified for the promotion of some other public good.

    For example, is it right for public funds to be used to maintain symphony orchestras to play classical works, including some works which few people want to hear?

    I recall that in Liverpool there were “workers’ concerts” with cut price tickets so that the less well-off could afford to attend, and checking up I find that the originator of that idea died in 2006:

    http://www.liverpooldailypost.co.uk/liverpool-culture/liverpool-arts/2006/11/06/workers-concerts-pioneer-dies-86-99623-18051668/

    “Workers’ concerts pioneer dies, 86”

    “The plan was to popularise symphony concerts to retain and enlarge audiences.

    He promoted and developed the Merseyside Industrial Concerts which gave cheap tickets to workers to attend special performances.”

    All very socialistic, especially post-war socialistic, although I don’t know whether public money was involved in subsidising the tickets.

  18. Leslie Singleton
    Posted July 25, 2013 at 9:42 am | Permalink

    Personally I like flyfishing in the hills for anadromous fish and I would rather be dead than go to the opera again–Rosenkavalier was the worst night of my life and why anything smacking of the latter should be subsidised while fishing now needs a whopping payment just for the licence is too clever for me. Culinarily prepared muscular tissue simultaneously proves gustatorially and salutarily satisfying, and catastrophically toxicant, to disparate members of the species homo sapiens.

  19. Atlas
    Posted July 25, 2013 at 10:05 am | Permalink

    I think the performing arts should survive without subsidy. If they are performing what people want they’ll survive. Similarly for music and the fine arts.

    Indeed, we don’t subsidise football – so why not extend your question to all the other ‘sports’ who seem to need a public ‘bung’ to survive, such is the public’s lack of real interest in them?

    Thinking on other ‘rent-seekers’, I reckon copyright should be reduced back to 21 years. All we have now are bloated Music and Publishing interests who only survive on their past glories.

  20. behindthefrogs
    Posted July 25, 2013 at 10:08 am | Permalink

    Using public money to support the arts is the wrong priority when we have such a huge national debt and so many unemployed.

  21. Neil Craig
    Posted July 25, 2013 at 10:24 am | Permalink

    I can see 2 valid arguments for subsidy:
    1 – To promote some cutting edge intellectual achievement that is 2 far ahead of the curve to be popular – James Joyce would be an example. However the problem is differentiating such from just plain weird in advance. So I would tend to confine such support to long after the event prizes like the Nobels.

    2 – Things which the entire nation will be uplifted by – the buildings and paintings sponsored by medieval rulers and popes paid for come to mind. The Olympics are a non-artistic comparison. This leaves me supporting the most expensive operas and a fair bit of socialist realist statuary, as well as the Olympics, none of which I much like, but those do seem justifiable on such grounds.

    Similar arguments apply for X-Prizes but where they score is that they have verifiable technical standards, as well, of course, of scientific research almost always being financially worth it in the long term. As a general rule government should be more restricted by verifiable rules than the subject.

    (Unverified e g left out ed)

    A few years ago I was seriously annoyed that there was £150 million available for a couple of Titians but nothing available for space X-Prizes. That remains the case and difficult to justify on any basis.

  22. forthurst
    Posted July 25, 2013 at 10:29 am | Permalink

    “Is great art bound to be disliked in it own time and in need of state support? Or is great art popular enough to support itself?”

    Here’s another question: is the concept of ‘progress’ in the arts meaningful? Another question: with the aid of public patronage, can bad art drive out good? Another: is ‘conceptual art’ an oxymoron? Another: can the twelve-tone technique be used to create sounds which the ear perceives as music?

    It would appear that the art colleges, when teaching art have abandoned conventional instruction in drawing, painting and sculpture. As a consequence most of their graduates do not have the technique to create works of pure aesthetic appeal or obvious fidelity to an intended subject. That being the case, are there any grounds at all for their works being subsidised by the public purse? Are students themselves being charged fees for instruction of no value?

    Much modern serious music can be conceived as having been influenced by Arnold Schoenberg because of the degree to which his crackpot ideas have infiltrated the conservatoires, either as exemplary or in reaction (minimalism etc). This is why orchestral concerts are largely limited to the works of composers who were prodigies and recognised as such in their own times, or sometimes give an outing, once only, never to be played again, to a work by a modern ‘composer’.

    A final question: why is a cacophonic assault in a concert hall so much more distressing than a corresponding visual one? Is it simply because one is obliged to sit through the former whilst one can simply walk past the later as most people do when on a visit to a public art gallery.

  23. waramess
    Posted July 25, 2013 at 10:35 am | Permalink

    Not one brass farthing should be spent by the government on culture. Those that want it should pay the full cost.

    I have seen the most lavish Shakespear performances at Stratford Upon Avon and the most frugal at Eastnor Castle in Hereford. There is only one difference and that is the vast amounts of government money poured needlessly into SUA performances.

    Motzart will not die without government subsidies and art will simply have less to store in the cellars.

  24. lojolondon
    Posted July 25, 2013 at 10:42 am | Permalink

    No subsidy, all culture should be self-financing, as it always has been. If Turner painted, he needed to sell, the government never paid him to see if he could one day be successful. Likewise with Shakespeare.
    The only exception is with art of historical significance, I do believe that British museums should get some kind of support to purchase important art and sculptures, when there is a threat they will leave the country forever.

  25. Kenneth
    Posted July 25, 2013 at 11:07 am | Permalink

    I don’t think it should be left to a few talent spotters on the BBC or a few in the arts council to pick a few winners at the expense of many losers.

    I would like to see more plurality in the media and an end to subsidised arts.

    Putting on an opera is extremely expensive and it goes without saying that the loss of state subsidies would mean an end to most opera. However, some people love the opera and I am certain it would still exist for those who are prepared to save up their pennies to see it.

    Nobody should have the right to decide what art is good and what is not good.

    The good news is that the internet is allowing access to a greater variety of art at low cost – with no subsidy at all.

    I would like the state to remove itself from this area.

  26. Tom William
    Posted July 25, 2013 at 11:23 am | Permalink

    Given the (increasing, but officially obscured) amount of national debt the answer has to be either nothing or much less. Already many regional theatres and museums are losing subsidies.

    Performing arts are different to visual arts, where generally the valuation is unrealistic, or even absurd, and hyped by both the practitioners and collectors for their own benefit. There should be no subsidy for art galleries. Theatre, ballet and opera have a case for subsidy but it should be very rigorously scrutinised. Many theatres now have fund raising schemes, and if they can not survive commercially that is the answer.

    Museums and libraries need any claim for subsidy carefully examined rather than being considered a right. Why should ordinary public libraries be free? Why should they provide free internet access? What is wrong with a small membership fee, possibly waived for students and OAPs?

    • uanime5
      Posted July 26, 2013 at 4:21 pm | Permalink

      Libraries should be free so that the poor and unemployed will not be denied having anything to read or the ability to apply for jobs online.

  27. Mark
    Posted July 25, 2013 at 12:30 pm | Permalink

    I have been fortunate to visit great museums, concert halls and theatres in jurisdictions as varied as the USSR, the USA and across Europe.

    The Soviets managed to provide top notch ballet, one of the world’s greatest collections of Impressionist art and much else at very modest prices – provided you got access to tickets – albeit the state was the arbiter of taste. It tended to promote things Russian, though not exclusively, and to hide from Russians it considered undermined the regime such as Chagall or Nureyev after defection. These days access in on the basis of price (at least to foreigners), with tickets to the Mariinksy being every bit as expensive as those at Covent Garden or the Lincoln Center. Funding has changed to match the new realities.

  28. Julian
    Posted July 25, 2013 at 12:47 pm | Permalink

    We can’t afford subsidies for the arts because of the fact that the UK debt is increasing and not decreasing. The only way art can be paid for is by government borrowing – which is increasing!
    The day of reckoning will come – look at property ownership – it’s too expensive and overvalued as well. This will lead to more crime (which is rising not falling as people do not report crimes because the police are unable to deal with it) and in the end an economic crisis.
    It wish it were otherwise but this is the stark reality of life in the UK and generally in the West. Whatever party/coaltion is in power will carry on like this pretending we can borrow and spend our way out of this mess.

  29. uanime5
    Posted July 25, 2013 at 1:02 pm | Permalink

    Well if the UK doesn’t support new arts then we’ll end up with less British based art, music, and plays; and more of the arts from abroad (most likely from the USA). Perhaps the best way to help is to fund places where new artists, musicians, and playwrights and exhibit their works (online if possible to ensure they have access to a large audience).

    Regarding great art in the past many paintings were commissioned by patrons to be displayed in their own houses, rather than in salons open to the general public, so they were appreciated in their own time; especially if the artist added the patrons to the picture. Though artists did create many non-commission pictures these were usually based on what was popular at the time (Roman and Greek mythology, landscapes, carnivals, anything religious) to maximise their chance of being sold. So they weren’t disliked at the time but few were considered great works because they only appealed to people during a particular fad, rather than being timeless classics.

    When great works are disliked in their own time this is mainly because they conflict with the established moral system, however once the moral system changes people started to appreciate these works of art. Punk and rap are examples of music that were initially condemns but are now considered mainstream. Another example is Édouard Manet’s painting “Le déjeuner sur l’herbe” (“The Luncheon on the Grass”) where the main objection was not the nudity of the two women but the men’s casual attitude towards it.

    • julian
      Posted July 26, 2013 at 11:52 am | Permalink

      “Perhaps the best way to help is to fund places where new artists, musicians, and playwrights and exhibit their works”
      I’m happy for you to pay for it but not for the government to tax me or borrow for it!

      • uanime5
        Posted July 26, 2013 at 4:24 pm | Permalink

        Given that the Government is already taxing you and borrowing to pay for the arts it’s already too late to object to how it’s funded.

  30. peter davies
    Posted July 25, 2013 at 1:48 pm | Permalink

    Its not something I have ever given much thought to and know little about so I would go with what most people have said – I do think this ties into your discussion regarding charities to a degree.

    There are several well run charities in the UK that stand completely on their own two feet without Govt subsidy – in my mind the arts should fit that category. If they serve a useful purpose and are not just something for a few then they should be very capable of standing on their own two feet without having tax payers money thrown at them.

    This Govt has mountains of problems of many kinds to deal with including financial so Arts really should be added to the list of things they need to stay out of unless there’s a compelling reason to get involved; for example if something like the Tate would close meaning the loss of x no of visitors were support taken away (assuming they are supported) there may be a case for retaining it.

  31. Alte Fritz
    Posted July 25, 2013 at 1:53 pm | Permalink

    It is said that one of Mrs Thatcher’s greatest disappointments was that her tax reforms did not, in turn, give rise to a revival of substantial charitable giving. Almost every significant cultural asset we have is recognisably the result of Victorian philanthropy. Whatever the reason, we cannot rely on philanthropy to fill the funding gap, so we have a judgement to make; to pay or not to pay.

    If one funds the arts, some money will be wasted, but, in truth, I would sooner waste it on the arts than promote a benefits dependency culture.

    • Bob
      Posted July 25, 2013 at 6:41 pm | Permalink

      @Alte Fritz
      ” I would sooner waste it on the arts than promote a benefits dependency culture.”??

      I would sooner we didn’t waste at all.

  32. Baxman
    Posted July 25, 2013 at 2:19 pm | Permalink

    Why should the state subsidise arts by enforcing copyright laws if the answer is a not subsidise arts as many say?
    Should we care that a pop or film stars earnings are reduced by downloading or films that are made abroad by foreign companies are copied? Do not tell me that music or films will not be made or performed and video games would cease to exist as this is clearly not true. Would it not be better to have more music and film more widely available? The technology is becoming more simple and fastener every day will all required available in any supermarket. Technological solutions are futile. search engines are part of the problem. The problem will not go away and cannot be stopped, so as ever. What to do? More resources spent on policing and subsidies by the state? Ram it.

    • Edward2
      Posted July 27, 2013 at 8:42 am | Permalink

      Its about law and order Bax.
      If your only way of earning a living was from income received from sales of the songs or books or art you had worked long and hard to create then having pirates stealing and copying and selling your creative work would leave you poor.
      Are you telling us you would be content to have that happen to you and not have any laws to be able to stop it.

      • Bazman
        Posted July 27, 2013 at 7:37 pm | Permalink

        Their finger has been in the dyke for years now. Soon with technical advances the law will be irrelevant is my point so why enforce something futile?

        • Edward2
          Posted July 28, 2013 at 8:27 pm | Permalink

          Because it is stealing, pure and simple.
          Just as much as someone coming into your home who picks up your TV and walks out with it and then sells it for money.

          • Bazman
            Posted July 29, 2013 at 9:14 am | Permalink

            The difference being that your TV is still there when you get home..

  33. StrongholdBarricades
    Posted July 25, 2013 at 2:30 pm | Permalink

    When did museums and the arts become divorced from Lifelong Education?

    Why is it a separate department?

    Why is there any political control at all?

  34. rd
    Posted July 25, 2013 at 3:14 pm | Permalink

    I like ballet and contribute freely to the English National Ballet; that is my choice and while I may regret that not everybody appreciates ballet as I do I do not believe it is up to the Government to tax others who may not appreciate it as I do to fund what I personally enjoy.

  35. Lindsay McDougall
    Posted July 25, 2013 at 4:12 pm | Permalink

    State subsidy of the arts cannot be justified to any degree in any circumstances. Imagine subsidising the production of plays by a man who believed in the divine right of kings! Also, if you tax people so that others may listen to Mozart’s music, they will have less money to buy CDs of – for example – Shostakovic’s piano concertos.

    While we are on the subject, I remind everyone that the National Lottery is a scheme for the partial nationalisation of charity. The ‘worthy causes’ are determined by people appointed by the State. When the lottery was first introduced, donations to charity fell by an amount equal to the bets placed on the lottery.

  36. Anonymous
    Posted July 25, 2013 at 4:44 pm | Permalink

    Popular, commercially viable art is subsidised too.

    How many successful actors, artists and pop stars would have gone on to become economic successes without the welfare state propping them up ‘in between jobs’ before they were discovered ?

  37. Chris S
    Posted July 25, 2013 at 4:47 pm | Permalink

    The Luvvies need to understand that the country is broke and public spending can only be justified on absolute essentials.

    Performing and Visual Arts : No subsidy at all. This should most definitely include Opera
    Tax payers should not be expected to subsidise seats for overseas visitors. Costs should be cut and ticket prices increased to reflect the full cost of running each organisation. This will concentrate minds like nothing else.

    Museums and Art Galleries should only be free to people able to demonstrate that they are UK Council Tax Payers. A subsidy should be allowed for UK taxpayers but everyone else should pay an entry fee that should again reflects the apportioned true cost of running the organisation

    Tate Modern should be closed. I have been there and the exhibits have no artistic merit whatsoever. I include here the works by Damien Hurst and Tracey Emin who are rich enough to open their own galleries.

    I have just listened to a BBC “Analysis” podcast by Paul Johnson, the director of the Independent Institute for Fiscal Studies. The subject was the raising of an extra £20bn in taxes after 2015.

    All options ( other than CGT ) were discussed but nobody mentioned the obvious alternative : cutting expenditure more.

    We cannot have ever higher rates of taxation : cutting expenditure is the only acceptable answer. Best start now and do it properly.

  38. Ken Adams
    Posted July 25, 2013 at 5:09 pm | Permalink

    If public money is used to say fund a theater it should be on the condiditon that said venue does not then use is special posititon to set up in compertition with the local bars and restaurants by opening its own in house bars and restaurants.

  39. Lindsay McDougall
    Posted July 25, 2013 at 6:20 pm | Permalink

    Change of subject. In the housing market, gazumping is back with a vengeance. Easy money, low interest rates and mortgage subsidies that place the taxpayer at risk, have that effect. I hope that all of you, especially Conservative Members of Parliament, are thoroughly ashamed of yourselves.

    I would like Mr Redwood to address this issue. My daughter has taken out a mortgage with the interest rate fixed for 7 years, so worried is she about future changes to monetary policy. I think that she is very wise.

    What has Mr Redwood got to say who have chosen the amount to borrow on the basis of monthly payments determined by their lender’s SVR and would be highly embarrassed by a rise in base rate?

  40. John Wrexham
    Posted July 25, 2013 at 11:13 pm | Permalink

    John, being totally biased because i work in a local authority museum, i can say we provide great value for money and a top class service in many ways. a) Conservatives should be interested in their national heritage and museums help preserve and encourage people to take an interest in that heritage. Most children’s first interaction with heritage comes through a visit to their local museum. It is only later in life that they start paying to look around National Trust properties and the like b) Museums do a huge amount towards raising literacy and numeracy levels among school children. We meet children, especially but not only the brainier ones, demotivated by our mediocre state education system every day and I can assure that a visit to their local museum is a highlight of their school week or even term. We are also vital to spreading knowledge of our country’s history because increasing numbers of school teachers just aren’t capable of teaching the subject . They just teach to the test. c) Museums provide a public space where people can engage in lifelong learning d) Museums are one of those places that make towns civilised e) Museums (and heritage in general) attract huge numbers of tourists to this country. Let’s be honest, no one travels to Britain for the weather, the food or the hotels f) Museums encourage domestic tourists to visit town and cities across the UK. People don’t go on city breaks to shop, but for culture and heritage, however, while they are there they spend money in shops etc and boost the local economy g) I could go on and on because I reckon we are probably one of the most efficient government services in the country: flexible, imaginative, and with loads of initiative compared to the better funded and better salaried services. Being on the centre right, i find it baffling that so many Conservative politicians and activists rant against culture, when I expect your typical Conservative voter enjoys culture and especially heritage more than supporters of Labour or even the Lib Dems.

  • About John Redwood


    John Redwood won a free place at Kent College, Canterbury, and graduated from Magdalen College Oxford. He is a Distinguished fellow of All Souls, Oxford. A businessman by background, he has set up an investment management business, was both executive and non executive chairman of a quoted industrial PLC, and chaired a manufacturing company with factories in Birmingham, Chicago, India and China. He is the MP for Wokingham, first elected in 1987.

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