One of the best things about The Spectator is that it has no party line. As its dauntless refusal to compromise on Leveson Inquiry has shown, it is incomparably committed to the free speech of its writers. So only here could a humble arts blogger announce that this magazine’s editor, Fraser Nelson, was riproaringly, doltheatedly, cloven-foot-in-mouth wrong in his post on arts funding last week. On pretty much everything.
Fraser’s right about one thing: Sajid Javid will make a great culture secretary, because unlike most culture bureaucrats, he gives a toss about staying solvent. Running culture by committee has always been a problem: the Department of Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) remains a bloated department. So dedicated is it to assessing whether taxpayers’ money is spent on nice, cuddly cultural orgs which meet artificial targets on education, diversity and ‘impact’ that plenty of the arts budget is still being spent on ‘legacy’ officer salaries rather than buying children’s books in libraries. All bureaucracies exist to justify their own budgets: the DCMS is no exception.
But to leap from here to claim that we shouldn’t spare a single penny to invest in the arts is monstrous. Not just because Fraser completely misnomers the arts as ‘the pastimes of the rich’ (we also subsidise Wimbledon, through the Lawn Tennis Association), but because when he praises commercial theatres like The Globe, which ‘requires zero subsidy’, he misunderstands the economic relationship between commercial and subsidised arts. He’s right that theatres like The Globe ‘demonstrate the falseness of the choice between commercial successful and artistically brilliant’ – but in dividing the arts world neatly into ‘commercial’ and ‘subsidised’, he’s making just as false a dichotomy.
Yes, The Globe receives no annual government support (it receives a fair bit for ‘special projects’, such as filming and live-streaming its recent flagstream Globe to Globe Festival.)