With the news that opera will receive £2.4m in recession support from Arts Council England as part of their first round of Sustain funding, is it not time that the state stopped funding a form of entertainment that appeals only to a small section of the population?
In the press release, Arts Council England state that “The number of applications to the fund illustrates how this recession is challenging the capacity of our arts organisations to continue to deliver the bold, ground breaking and excellent art that audiences demand.” Not exactly. The applications illustrate a natural response to free cash upon application. And if it is the case, as the press release also states, that “the creative economy is the fastest growing part of our national economy”, why on earth does it need taxpayers’ money?
Personally I benefit hugely from arts funding. I enjoy opera, theatre and classical music, which are all heavily subsidised. Living in London it is easy to visit the opera a handful of times each year and the theatre and classical concerts more regularly still. My entertainment is subsidised by other taxpayers who are either not interested, live too far away or cannot afford to attend. These events are mostly attended by a section of the population who are already wealthy beyond the average. At least the Romans had the good grace to appeal to a wider section of the public in their policy of bread and circuses.
Art is such a personal and ephemeral thing that it really does not warrant our taxes. Its appreciation (if not beauty) is very much in the eye (or ear) of the beholder, with difference and conflict being the order of the day. As its creation and admiration is hardwired into humanity, the money ploughed into arts is as valuable as subsidising conversation. And as in the most creative times public opinion and the direction of what is considered good can turn on a sixpence, the government and quangos will inevitably back losers.