Oxford based musician and composer Malcolm Atkins has written a trenchant reflection on the need for performing arts spaces in Oxford.  For another artist/musician’s passionate view, read Jon Bowen‘s comment on my original piece.  Please add your responses, comments and observations, and contribute to this debate as it gets underway…

Malcolm writes:

The arts in Britain are in crisis but this in itself is not unusual. The Brits have often been suspicious of culture and steadfastly philistine and class based in their approach to the arts. More than anything this applies to the performing arts in Oxford.
The recent crisis has been further accelerated by:

·         the insanity of councils selling off land and assets needed for local communities when there is no way that arts groups can afford to pay commercial rates for venues. This is particularly exacerbated by the high cost of land in Oxford
·         The uselessness of arts funding. Arts funding through organisations like the Arts Council is often more geared to having a good budget statement and marketing strategy than any interest in the aesthetics of what is produced.
·         The other main patrons of the arts are often educational institutions. For modern universities the main aim as corporations is to ensure the corporate logo is prominent and that the corporate CV ticks appropriate boxes. Within this individual art departments will choose friends and acquaintances.

In terms of music there is no way any of the key figures in Western music would have survived the insanity of contemporary patronage. Monteverdi would never have written a successful opera if he had to fill in risk assessments, budgets and marketing strategies for Orfeo. Haydn would not have been allowed to develop symphonic and string quartet structures over a lengthy period.  Much as I hate to admit it mad aristocrats and church dignitaries are more likely to allow the development of the arts than the mishmash of conflicting interests vying for a mention on venue and artist publicity in return for meagre temporary support.

The only answer is to invest in proper arts facilities that are subsidised for the local community – either to use or to see work of value from outside the city. This subsidy would be far more valuable than grants to organisations from the Arts Council to put on shows in expensive venues where the majority of funding goes to the venue and not the artist. Oxford City Council should fund this properly – no excuses as there was no valid reason for getting rid of the Old Fire Station when it was a dedicated arts centre.

The escalation in publicity costs is also problematic. If proper funding involves massive leafleting and publicity costs then all that can happen is that a few well funded artists flood the streets with paper to take a slightly bigger audience than rival performers. With this kind of publicity battle the only people who gain are designers and printers – again artists lose out. The answer is to fund no publicity costs at all.

Universities should be compelled to work for the benefit of their locality – supplying venues and support for the arts in consultation not for their own obscure agendas.

Finally get rid of the Arts Council and any money that does not go into creating proper venues can be put into a lottery fund for aspiring artists. Funded artists  may not have perfect marketing strategies but there is no reason to suppose they will produce work of lower aesthetic value than that funded now.

As far as possible fund artists and not arts administrators.

Malcolm Atkins