Enthusiasm for the high street as our local cultural hot spot seems to have reached fever pitch this week.
What a sad way for Tony Hall to exit the BBC after a ridiculous teacup-sized media-manufactured row, and with his last decision overturned the minute his successor took over.
By Patrick Kelly
It’s easy, perhaps even reasonable, to be pessimistic about the future of culture following the ravages of the pandemic.
Gradually the “String of Pearls”, as Richard Rogers once called the cultural attractions along the south side of the Thames, are coming back to life, but it’s patchy and their futures are as murky as the river itself.
There’s something eerily Gothick about the New River Head engine house, a delight for illustrators and an image that would send Mervyn Peake on a maelstrom of weird invention. No wonder Quentin Blake fell for it.
“Unlovely” is how one of the PRs associated with the Thames Estuary development describes the region. “It’s hard to see Joseph Conrad”.
There was a poignant throwaway line on Front Row’s edition devoted to Rethink last week when the panel was lamenting any meaningful suggestions from the government about how to avoid the black hole our cultural infrastructure is heading headlong for. “In the absence of large art” said the equality campaigner Amanda Parker “people found local”.
At the start of Radio 4’s Front Row on Tuesday presenter John Wilson seemed bucked to be able to say that the government had announced a couple of hours earlier that museums, galleries and cinemas could reopen from July 4.
Artists and writers such as Yinka Shonibare, Ben Okri and Anish Kapoor, and museum curators like Hartwig Fischer at the British Museum, have called for a national museum devoted to, they say, the “transatlantic slave trade and its racist legacy”. But is that what they really want, and is racism slavery's legacy?
Black Lives Matter has hit the arts, and so it should. Our culture is who we are, and BLM is telling us that some of us haven’t noticed who we have become.
Negotiations on saving our culture from apocalypse, behind closed doors rather than in the correspondence pages of the national press, have begun and are expected to take until the end of the month, at least in their initial stage. Not long to build a new horizon.
Most theatres can’t open before the autumn and those that do will have to operate at 30% box office to meet social distancing requirements, producing an income that would be well below costs. Apocalypse.
This little fellow, all of four inches tall, is a muse. Not one of the official ones, but one that some enterprising local museums in Kent hope will generate sweet music. Actually he’s a Lar, but I’ll come back to him.
The irony of the National Gallery’s situation last Friday, the 75th anniversary of VE Day, was not lost on its director Gabriele Finaldi.
By Patrick Kelly
It’s hard to lift the gloom these days, as the cultural industries survey the wreckage of the Covid-19 crisis and the hapless efforts of the UK government to address it.
“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.