“If you can’t come to art then art will come to you” says the artist Sam Harris, and never has that been truer than in this eerie Covid envelope in history.
That seems to be the sentence that every government announcement ends with. But as Keir Starmer told the government on Tuesday, you can’t just park this. The pandemic will end, nothing will go back to normal, the economy will be unrecognisable, and the plan to deal with it is…
By Patrick Kelly
This week we hear that The Film and TV Charity has set up an emergency relief fund for freelancers who have been hit hardest by the closure of productions across the country. Netflix, BBC Studios and the BFI are all stumping up so that grants of up to £2,500 will be available for applicants in hardship.
Before I launch into this week’s diatribe, take four minutes for this, from the Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra. It will put you in the mood.
The news that Halifax’s Square Chapel has gone into administration demonstrates the fragility of arts organisations in the face of the coronavirus pandemic.
This is the week the coronavirus crisis really hit the industry, with a tsunami of closures affecting every single sector of the cultural world, from theatre to television, museums to music venues.
For Wednesday’s Budget, Covid-19 has been a veil behind which civic Britain is dying. Our high streets are commercial cemeteries, our pubs - as the Chancellor noted - closing at the rate of 18 a week, local theatres and concert halls struggling to survive and shopping malls almost deserted.
We’ve learned this week that Dominic Cummings detests humanities and the arts, underlining the theory that the Department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport has only survived his scythe because he needs it to hit the BBC with, and duly the new culture secretary’s first speech has been about the BBC.
How did Rembrandt become the world’s finest painter from being barely competent in what could be as little as two years?
We learned this week that the Creative Industries are now worth £111.7bn a year to the economy in gross value added, up from £104.8bn in the previous reckoning according to new economic growth figures, and that the next two London “boroughs of culture” are going to be Lewisham and Croydon. There’s a connection, and the link is a fairly new word in artspeak: place.
In 2017 Greg Doran had to start his annual RSC press conference by announcing the death of Peter Hall, the RSC’s first artistic director, who had died that morning. On Tuesday he couldn’t do it for Hall’s successor but one because Terry Hands died that day but a couple of hours later. Trevor Nunn, Adrian Noble and Michael Boyd will be planning a very quiet day when Doran’s next press conference is scheduled.
Next week Arts Council England is expected to announce its cultural strategy for the next ten years, and already it’s being forestalled by another report, called ACE in a hole.
Is there life for the creative industries after Brexit? Well, yes, but it’s the quality of that life (and its consequent earning power) that’s the point.
Happy new year.
OK, we need creativity in our schools. Keep on saying it and maybe, just maybe, it’ll be made to happen just to shut us up. But hang on, what’s this? Arts involvement later in life helps you live longer?
Troy: myth and reality is a truly fabulous exhibition. It opens at the British Museum today with objects loaned from all over the world and tells probably the greatest story ever told, in that it has inspired, horrified and delighted all those who have encountered it for at least 3,000 years, and probably more.
I’d known Marcel Berlins for maybe 25 years: lawyer, journalist, critic, broadcaster, poetaster, omnivorous music lover, gourmet, most marvellous raconteur. He never referred to his Jewishness, it was of no relevance, and it was not until his memorial service this week that I knew he had spent the first four years of his life hiding in a French attic from Nazis.
So, the swords are out, rhetoric is already echoing and the familiar chorus seems to be in every corner of our lives, the cries echoing across Europe. And it all kicks off on Monday, I can’t wait.
What do you think this is, a swastika or two noodle strands arranged in a visual pun? And how seriously should you take it?
There’s nothing new in universities getting together with community arts organisations. The Ashmolean, the first public museum, has always been part of Oxford University after all.
For years, decades, the Royal Academy was an anachronism that many thought should never have been allowed to reach its 250thbirthday, as it did last year. In the 60s, 70s, 80s and even 90s artists would turn down election, not wanting to be associated with such a fossil, its standing as a slavish part of the establishment or the out-moded professional practices of its Victorian membership.
As part of the London Design Festival, the Africa Centre laid open the dilemmas it faces as it tackles its future at a public discussion this week. Its director, Kenneth Olumuyiwa Tharp, and Jonathan Hagos of the architectural practice commissioned to design its new face spread it all out.
Evelyn Pickering could have been the leading Pre-Raphaelite painter, at least up there with her uncle R S Stanhope. In 1887 she married the then uber-fashionable ceramicist William De Morgan, and in the Arts and Crafts milieu they were Posh ‘n’ Becks, Harry and Megan, George and Amal rolled together.
By Patrick Kelly
Last week the newspapers in Cork were delighted to report that local heroes Pat Kinevane and Gina Moxley had just carried off a trio of awards at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe for their separate theatre shows. But what was also significant was that there at the podium, beaming and congratulatory, was Ireland’s Minister for the Arts, Josepha Madigan.
Almost exactly five years ago there was a mighty street party around Windrush Square in Brixton for the opening, at long last, of the Black Cultural Archives in a former Liberal club close by. It was the culmination of 33 years of research, conservation, administration, fundraising and campaigning not to mention a visceral determination to get black culture taught in schools.
In his Edinburgh Fringe mime show, The Letter, Paolo Nani was trying to open a bottle and pour a glass of wine from it without using his arms.
The art world is tying itself in knots over Johnson’s elevation, viz Anish Kapoor’s rather nasty visual response I show here - just to get your attention even if it’s not what this piece if mostly about - which, he says, was inspired by a Peter Sellers song: “Oh to be in England now my Johnson’s in a Twist”. “Johnson” being ribald slang.
At this existential moment for us as a nation, there’s an interesting exhibition opening in Hull soon that tries to pin down who we are.
We’re going back to Victorian times, and it might be the saving of us – from ourselves.
One shouldn’t be surprised, in this retro world of ours, but young people from poorer families are still being excluded from arts careers by the old boys’ network, the “affinity bias”, and those that do make it are paid an average of £6,800 a year less than their more affluent colleagues.
Mark Rylance’s announcement that he was parting with the RSC because of the company’s association with BP makes him the latest in a growing list of artists getting involved in the increasingly fraught quest for arts funding.
The new director of the Royal Museums Greenwich is to be Paddy Rodgers, a man with no professional museums experience at all.
Good news in Philip Augar’s review of post-18 education in that it calls for £1bn more to be allocated to fix further education and allow tuition fees to be cut from £9,000 a year to £7,500.
Someone HAS to write an opera about opera. Better, a soap opera. Sex, death, plot lurches, vast personalities and gorgeous costumes, it's all there.
It was a coincidence of fate. At the moment the survival of the oldest Elizabethan theatre against the odds and its bright future were being celebrated, the probable closure of the modern one modelled on it was announced.
By Patrick Kelly
Since the referendum, there’s been a lot of talk about cars. As in “the German car manufacturers will force the EU to come to a deal” or “the UK’s car industry will flee the country if there’s No Deal”.
I was in Derry a few days before Lyra McKee was killed, a place I’ve grown an affection for over the years.
Both our national opera houses are in trouble this week, in quite different ways. One of the issues might have huge repercussions, the other smaller ones.
Can the arts recover from austerity, and if so what is the medicine? More, can the arts heal our fractured country?
As Mrs May’s Brexit becomes more and more Mrs May Breaks It, the country is pulling itself together despite national politics, with its cities planning for their own cultural revivals. First London, now Manchester, next – where?
Post-Olympic Stratford is booming. The V&A, Sadler’s Wells, University College London and even the London College of Fashion are all settling in at the Olympic Park, or what Boris Johnson called Olympicopolis. It’s getting a £2.3bn international quarter for global corporations, the 34-storey Sky View Tower and the 14-storey City West Tower. Even the multi-storey car park by the station is to turn its top level over to a roof garden.
It is not so much ironic as poignant, that the point at which a charity, the John Ellerman Foundation, recognises the growing crisis among museum curators and intervenes is swiftly followed by a local authority getting rid of all its curators.
With no fanfare at all and hardly noticed, an important brick might just have been added to the wall of the new structure of funding for our arts and culture.
By Patrick Kelly
It’s a guess, but the chances are that most readers of this column will not have heard of Emily Hope. Which is a shame, because Emily is a visitor team leader at the Beamish Museum in Durham. And she is in the running to become a Tourism Superstar.
This week the Royal Academy announced its biggest ever single gift of £10m as a result of which the RA Schools will be named the Julia and Hans Rausing campus. At the announcement in the RA’s life drawing room, where we sat on the same benches that Turner and Constable once rested their young haunches, my colleague whispered, “Is that the good Rausing or the bad Rausing?”.
Wimbledon College of Arts is turfing out its fine arts operation so that it can teach acting. In three years or so, if things go according to plan, half of the thousand students in the leafiest corner of the University of the Arts London (UAL) empire will be performers; the other half will be costume or set designers.
Not to get too carried away by convenient cliché, there’s a new dawn breaking over our cities.
Next month the Arts Council publishes its annual diversity report, offering a series of webinars on how to do diversity.
We’re on the brink. The political arrogance, diplomatic blundering, economic obfuscating and cultural ignorance have led the cultural industries to the top of Beachy Head and about to step off. Or are we?
A research programme has just been announced that sends the imagination into paroxysms and at the same time makes you despair for theatre as we love it. It’s called Audience of the Future.
Yvette Cooper, Labour’s home affairs select committee chair, has written to the culture secretary to complain that the UK City of Culture scheme unfairly excludes towns.
Earlier this week the director of a major arts charity, referring to Brexit, told me “We can only do what we CAN do”, with the heavy emphasis on the CAN and the implication being that we can do a lot more than we think we can.
It was like a Sunday afternoon at a Southern Gospel Chapel. Massed choirs on the stage jigging around and waving their arms about, the audience responding by standing and clapping their hands above their heads as they hooted their approval, impassioned young conductors urging both choir and audience on to still more frenzy.
By Simon Tait
I’ll spare you another Brexit sermon, that can wait at least a week. Instead I can take advantage of the fact that today is December 7, the anniversary of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour, and make a connection with the extraordinary polymath Larry Holofcener, who died last year aged 91, Franklin Roosevelt and Winston Churchill.
Amanda Spielman, the head of Ofsted, has been one of the quieter incumbents of that office, a post which has attracted its fair share of controversialists. Some of her predecessors considered they weren’t doing a proper job unless they were making headlines with their latest musings.
This image is from a play. Both are quite literally “in yer face”. So are the issues they confront: alienated youth, drugs, knife and gun violence.
Halfway through her brief tenure as culture secretary, Maria Miller did the only thing she will probably be remembered for, apart from standing down in the face of an expenses complaint. The expectation was for some kind of Westminster Abbey affair with a full set of royals and military on parade, but Mrs Miller had something else in mind.
It takes a soothsayer to pick over the entrails of the budget every year and find the relevance to the arts and culture, and this year’s no different. Even the DCMS’s own post-budget blog ignores the subject to concentrate on cyber security. But as BOP Consulting’s estimable Jonathan Todd remarks, “Culture is everywhere and largely missing in this budget”.
The Arts & Business Awards used to be the high point of the cultural season, if there is such a thing: a champagne dinner, black tie, silver service, in an exhalted venue like the V&A’s Raphael Cartoon Court. Forgotten now.
By Patrick Kelly
In recent years the European Capital of Culture award seems to have gone to cities that most Brits would find hard to place. It’s as if the EU was playing a Continental version of the game where you have to name the more obscure London Underground stations.
Next week is Tessa Jowell’s memorial service, and I hope there will be space in the tributes for mention of her greatest achievement, the most democratising event in Britain since the war: the 2012 Olympics.