So. Now the shit begins to hit the fan. The Arts Council cuts have been so mismanaged and misjudged that even the relatively supine arts community is up in arms.
Firstly, now that it’s become clear who’s being cut and to what extent, the arbitrariness of it becomes more and more palpable. Case in point, an area of the arts I would not normally be that interested in: opera. But if there is one company in the UK that can be said to be doing sterling work, this is it. Not the Royal Opera House, actually, which is legendary for its massivee budgets, its overspends, its management infighting and sackings – and not infrequent disatrous productions; but Birmingham Opera.
Even ten years ago: The Royal Opera House employed 500 staff and has 17,000 friends; its ticket prices of £125 and above deterred many music lovers, were snapped up by corporate sponsors and it still overspent by £4.7 million pounds….
And then there’s Birmingham Opera? It may sound grand. Birmingham is out second city, after all, so what’s the fuss about? Firstly, Birmingham Opera is not as grand as it sounds. It has a permanent staff of two people. However, it does have a director with a massive international reputation – Graham Vick – whose energy has sustained the company for years and years. But, most important, the company is legendary in Birmingham – and far beyond – simply because it’s rooted in the community of an ethnically diverse and regenerating city.
Take their last production: La Traviata. Oh? La Traviata, you say? Elitist Art? Not a bit of it. This Traviata was based on a production Graham Vick did in a 17,000 seat amphitheatre in Verona a few years back. The Italian management asked him to restage it in the summer of 2007 and he said he would, on one condition – that they loaned him the set for a week or two and do a production in the National Indoor Arena in the centre of Birmingham….
And lo! 19 artics made the journey from Verona to Birmingham … Meanwhile, Graham and his tiny team were enlisting the help of colleges, community groups and choirs across a complete cross-section of Birmingham to make up the choir of 200 and the 100 actors, dancers and performers. To make a production on a scale and of an audacity that the Royal Opera House or the English National Opera couldn’t even be bothered to dream of….
And, because it was a production that was so rooted in the community, the production was watched by 10,000 people in two nights – people who would normally never be seen dead in an opera audience; watching a production that was a devastating critique on ‘Celebrity Culture’, sexual hypocrisy and the commodification of love and human relationships… a beacon of accessibiliy and excellence that James Purnell, the current government supremo in ‘Culture, Media and Sport’ so readily pays lipservice to.
No, like so many of these Arts Council cut decisions; the Bush Theatre, The Nothcott Exeter, Eastern Angles – they don’t make any sense, don’t add up – even by the normally efficient standards of such scupulous and dead-eyed number-crunchers.
But, let’s see. They may have overplayed their hand – the cultural bureaucrats. Had their fingers off the pulse for too long to turn what was to be a bit of expenditure fat-trimming into a public relations disaster.