Arts blog: Money money money | Manchester vs Edinburgh

MARIA Miller’s first speech as the UK’s culture secretary, at the British Museum yesterday, was a curious mix of familiar Tory business jargon, the ‘creative economy’ language of the New Labour years, and a fondness for marketing slogans presumably inherited from her time in advertising.

It’s a speech anyone interested in the arts in Scotland should read closely, not least because it echoes the kind of thinking that led to the crisis at Creative Scotland last year.

Culture, Miller says, is “perhaps the most powerful and most compelling product we have available to us”, and can “play a “central role in driving growth”. It can do other things too, she admits: “The arts stimulate us, educate us, challenge and amuse us” and create “a sense of community”. Mostly, though, she’s far more interested in how much profit it can make – not in terms of improving anyone’s lives, you understand, just in cold hard cash. To justify even minimal government funding, she warns, the arts world “must demonstrate the healthy dividends that our investment continues to pay”.

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Ah yes, “investment”. This is much the same soulless business language used by Creative Scotland until the wave of protest last year. The open letter from 100 artists, that led to the downfall of CEO Andrew Dixon, highlighted “a corporate ethos that seems designed to set artist against artist and company against company in the search for resources”.

It is a criticism that Creative Scotland seems to have taken on board. The statement it released in December, following the departure of Dixon, talks of “emphasising the language of ‘support’ rather than ‘investment’ in both our values and operations” and a return to “long term funding to organisations over a number of years”.

Good luck to the new CEO then, who will inherit an organisation at ideological odds with Westminster. Mind you, they’ll be in good company. So is virtually everyone working in the arts, and Arts Council England, whose response to Miller’s speech was about as damning as it’s possible to get while still sounding vaguely diplomatic.

“As the Secretary of State says, we do need to make the economic case. And while doing so, we won’t forget that it is not all about money. Every civilised society in man’s history has felt the need to express and enjoy itself through music, through performance, storytelling or visual works of art. We are no different and the other vital return on the government’s investment is that it enables this need to be met for many, not for the few.” Quite.

Manchester vs Edinburgh (part two)

On this page a few weeks ago, I wondered aloud whether the Edinburgh International Festival (EIF) should be more like the Manchester International Festival. I didn’t come to any firm conclusion, but I’m now wondering whether the EIF has.

For many audience members, the core of the EIF experience is its programme of classical music and opera. But this is not the background of the festival’s new director, Fergus Linehan, below. His roots are in theatre (regarded by some as the weakest link in both Jonathan Mills and Brian McMaster’s programming) and, more recently, contemporary music, including pop music. This year he is bringing Bobby Womack and Kraftwerk to Sydney as part of his Vivid Live festival. He has previously programmed shows by Brian Wilson, Bjork, Grace Jones and Elvis Costello. Exactly the kind of names, in other words, that Manchester has used to create a programme that has very successfully mixed pop culture accessibility and more highbrow, experimental offerings (often in the same show – for example operas by Damon Albarn or Rufus Wainwright).

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Linehan was careful this week to acknowlege that the festival is “not a 
blank canvas”. “People care deeply and have a sense of ownership…You want to win the public’s trust, particularly in Edinburgh, which has such a strong history”. It’s fascinating, though, to wonder what he might have in mind for Edinburgh.