TAITMAIL Wintour for the arts discontented

The catwalk is throwing its red carpet out in aid of London’s beleaguered arts organisations, or some of them, at the command of the presiding queen of the rag trade, Anna Wintour.

“I read with dismay about the amount of cuts that were happening around the performing arts” said Vogue’s editor-in-chief from behind the famous anonymising shades, referring to the Arts Council’s bonfire of London grants announced last November. “The creative talent in London is unparalleled, so anything we can do to support all those creatively brilliant people, we’ll do.” 
So what she will do is open London Fashion Week in September with a diluted version of the Met Gala extravaganza she organised in New York last month (pictured here). That had Karl Lagerfeld as it’s central theme and raised £20.5m, slightly less than the Arts Council’s annual grant to the Royal Opera House since its 9% cut was imposed from April (though it’s still ACE’s biggest single client). Tickets for the New York blueprint were - wait for it - £48,500 a go (in Oscar style celebs above a certain listing point in the alphabet went free), so you know what income group the clientele was drawn from, and the single beneficiary was the Metropolitan Museum’s new Costume Institute (which has to raise all its own funding).
The inaugural London version, at Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Theatre Royal Drury Lane, is less focussed on our glad rag wearing neighbours and aimed slightly lower in the stratosphere where the ticket price of £150 each is more appropriate, and anybody with the right folding stuff can go. Celebrity participants this time will range from Ian McKellen to Naomi Campbell to Stormzy to Michaela Coel to – you can’t leave him out – Sadiq Khan. All directed by Stephen Daldry. The Sunak government, apparently, has not been part of the planning.
The actual planning of the event, though, is still rather vague. It has no name so far – please not Fashion Aid - and beneficiaries have yet to be identified, though Wintour told the Guardian that they will be flagships like the Royal Opera House, the National Theatre and the Rambert Dance Company.
Wintour is reacting not just to the cut in funding from the Arts Council, which included all of English National Opera’s funding unless it agrees to leave London, but to the government’s attack on the arts in London. ACE’s reaction, its chairman Nick “We’ve had to make invidious choices” Serota was quick to point out when the decisions were announced, is a direct response to the government’s instruction, via the then culture secretary Nadine Dorries, to cut £24m from its annual spend in London. The zeal with which Serota and his team made their invidious choices turned out to be worth more than £50m, with the ROH, ENO, National and Rambert just a handful of the arts organisations that lost all or part of their subsidy in the conflagration. Others included the Crafts Council, the ICA, the Serpentine, the Southbank, the Donmar, Hampstead Theatre and Camden Arts Centre. Dozens more below the Vogue radar are suffering and facing closure.
But Vogue’s focus is, of course, on fashion and though the UK fashion industry is worth £53.1bn a year, it is shrinking. Covid sent large swathes of the sector scurrying, with major labels such as Stella McCartney and Alexander McQueen uprooting their shows from London to Paris. Wintour, New York-based but pledging to move back to London, said she wanted to put a spotlight on the fashion shows too. “We are incredibly supportive of the talent in London”.
But if the dollar traditionally comes to London for fashion, it does so for theatre, music, museums and galleries too. “We made the decision that as we were emerging from Covid that we wanted to do something that was not only supporting the fashion industry, but also the restaurant industry, the arts – life in general” said Wintour “and not just fashion”.

Philanthropy, and this Wintour-inspired happening is in the traditional grand American style of charity, has become growingly important to cultural life here. ACE calculates that patronage contributes around £800m a year to the arts compared to its own £341m of taxpayers’ subvention.  Although the creative sector is bringing in more than £100bn a year to the economy, it couldn’t function without the generosity of the private sector (from which business sponsorship in the wake the new toxicity around, for instance, fossil fuel companies has all but disappeared) and mostly private individuals of the sort that can buy tickets at the Royal Opera House and the Theatre Royal Drury Lane from their loose change. The September event will last less than an hour and if all 2,196 seats in the Theatre Royal are filled by £150 paying bottoms the result will be a princely £329,400. Or just about enough to buy three tickets for the Met Gala.

There has been no announcement as to who will distribute the proceeds or how it will be shared.  It seems likely that Wintour has in mind the kind of arts operations that her client base would cross the ocean for, but the thought of the ROH and the National scrapping over a couple of thousand quid is not an edifying one, while the less well patronised by transatlantic visitors continue to put up their shutters. 

I mean institutions like the Jewish Museum which this week announced that it will close in the summer despite its matchless collections, its brilliantly conceived displays and its fascinating programme of exhibitions. It is perhaps the most scholarly and most entertaining deposition on Jewish culture anywhere, in a way the proposed holocaust memorial (to which the government has pledged £75m) never could. Ironically, it lost its ACE funding in 2020, but has it reinstated this time round while so many others were losing theirs. The intention is to re-establish it elsewhere, but where and with what funding is not known. Jewish tailoring is a famous part of the culture and of British fashion and that £329,400 from the Drury Lane event could be the basis for the museum rising from the ashes.

There is a slightly sour taste lurking around the rich elite chucking their credit cards into the charitable hat for the arts elite, and the indication from Vogue is that this extravaganza will not be an annual London event; Wintour wants to do it in places like Paris,  Milan and other European centres in subsequent years. But if it represents a recognition that the wealthy facet of the arts audience is aware of where their favourite form has come from and the straits that creative process is in now, and is willing to put its hand in its large pocket to replace lost subsidy, I’m cheering Wintour Aid on.

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