Old Labour, New Labour

By Georgia de Chamberet

For independents committed to discovering and showcasing new voices—be they home-grown or from foreign climes—2008 looms as a year of reckoning.

In October 2007, Arts Council England's (ACE) popular and energetic literature director Gary McKeone, who greatly improved literature funding, was made redundant as part of a restructure, along with a swathe of colleagues. More blood was spilled in December as nearly 200 out of England's 990 publicly funded arts organisations were told their subsidies will be halved or cut completely, from April this year. The effects will be particularly damaging to literary translation. The British Council also recently announced cutbacks, in the shape of disbanding its individual art departments.

It is ironic that England's arts face such a lean future under a Labour government, since the Arts Council was a brainchild of the Labour government of 1964-70. The original idea was that the Government provides the money, and the Arts Council is the body that makes policy decisions on how best the money can be spent; National Government encourages local interest, but does not dictate.

Lord Goodman, the brilliant lawyer and political advisor to a generation of Labour politicians, was Chairman of the Arts Council 1965-72. In his autobiography, Tell Them I'm On My Way, published in 1993, he writes of the underlying ethos: "When I became chairman of the Arts Council, the Minister for the Arts was Jennie Lee and the Prime Minister was Harold Wilson. Neither of them claimed any great knowledge of the arts, but both held the firm political view that the promotion of the arts to procure a more civilised world and—a view about which there is now much disagreement—that the cost of its adequate promotion should fall on public funds."

Back to the future: both Dedalus Books and Arcadia Books (winner of the 2007 Independent Foreign Fiction Prize) face potential closure as funding is slashed. Both publish a high proportion of books in translation. Eric Lane, Dedalus publisher, says: "19 European cultural institutions have formed partnerships with Dedalus to help it put British publishing at the heart of Europe. Why won't Arts Council England (ACE) join them in funding Dedalus?" Gary Pulsifer, MD of Arcadia, writes: "We believe that the cultural impact of the cut is disproportionate to the money saved by ACE. At a moment when the UK is assuming a leading role in the enlarged EU, it is hard to imagine a more important function for ACE than to ensure that the best of European literature continues to be available to British readers." As petitions circulate, Dedalus plans to sue ACE, and 2007 Nobel Laureate Doris Lessing, along with over 500 literary luminaries, signed a support for Arcadia appeal letter to ACE. Lord Goodman firmly believed in encouraging translation, and wrote in the Times Literary Supplement (9 October, 1970): "One of the shortcomings, perhaps unavoidable in English commercial publishing, is the English version of important foreign books. A subsidy to help the unpromising commercial situation is appropriate and important."

These publishers are not alone. The Bush Theatre—one of the UK's most celebrated new writing theatres featuring contemporary voices from a wide range of backgrounds—is similarly threatened with oblivion.

Anthony Neilson, Sebastian Barry,

Stephen Poliakoff and numerous others found early success at the Bush.

The association between government and the arts is invariably uneasy. About the relationship between the Minister for the Arts and the Arts Council, Lord Goodman wrote: "When Harold Wilson came to power in 1964, theoretical objections had been raised to the appointing of a Minister because of the possibility of conflict between the two principal figures in the equation. This theoretical question did not arise while Jennie was my minister. She worked with me as a sort of super chairman. It was not necessary for us to define the respective functions of the Department and the Arts Council. She did not get in the way and did not allow her minions to get in the way. We therefore deceived ourselves that an arrangement empirically excellent was theoretically so. It required a situation where the two principal figures did not operate in sympathy, had divergent notions and divergent objectives, to demonstrate the difficulties of an Arts Council of present-day character operating under the canopy of a ministry. If the Arts Council operates as it should, it has no need of ministerial control and no means of conforming to it."

Pop Blair maybe have been succeeded by book-friendly Brown, but today's department for Culture, Media and Sport has still managed to deal a body blow to public funding of the arts. The department is looking to fill the funding gap for the 2012 Olympics. Its name seems at odds with its actions, as the balance is clearly tipping in favour of sport. Is England to become a nation of sportsmen with no culture?

As Clare Alexander recently commented: "It seems that the needs of literature are to be starved, presumably in the interest of sport. This is short-termism of the worst kind. We should be doing the opposite: planning a celebration of our rich literary culture to take place alongside the London 2012 Olympics."

Lord Goodman considered that: "Political control of artistic matters is unthinkable. Departments are calculated to interfere, in the ultimate analogy, with real freedom of thought." The times they are a-changin….


Comments

1

I know that Glenn Thompson, were he still alive, would be helping to spearhead Centerprise’s fight against a complete cut in Arts Council funding.  It’s extremely short-sighted behaviour on behalf of ACE, and something I hope they will now reconsider.

 

Britain’s not-so-New Labour government, which funds ACE and the British Council - the UK’s artistic voice abroad - has brought on complete turmoil in both organizations, with several revamps in the space of a few years.  The arts officials employed at ACE and the BC are reeling, though few will care to admit it publicly - yet.  Not the cleverest of all approaches to a funding the arts.

 

 

Gary Pulsifer

 

Publisher

 

Arcadia Books

 

London
COMMENT: The Bookseller recently reported that: “At the Downing Street launch of the national year of reading 2008, Gordon Brown declared literacy was ‘one of the best anti-poverty, deprivation and crime policies we can think of.’ Take a moment to reflect: that statement places books at the heart of much of the governement’s domestic strategy.” Ironic indeed…
COMMENT: London, January 21:  Two former Arts Council England Literature Directors have joined Arcadia’s appeal against ACE funding cuts.

 

 

First to sign Arcadia’s letter of appeal was Charles Osborn, the poet and former ACE Literature Director.

 

 

Now Dr Alastair Niven, OBE, Principal of Cumberland Lodge in Windsor Great Park, has put his name to our petition.  Dr Niven, past President of English PEN, is a former Literature Director of both Arts Council England and the British Council.

 

 

Alastair Niven is also championing the cause of the Centreprise Literature Project, in Hackney, east London, which faces a total funding cut from ACE.

 

 

And actress Vanessa Redgrave and Booker Prize winning novelist Ian McEwan have now signed Arcadia’s letter against cuts, joining over 600 luminaries of the arts and literary world.
COMMENT: LONDON, January 21:  Two former Arts Council England Literature Directors have joined Arcadia’s appeal against ACE funding cuts.

 

 

First to sign Arcadia’s letter of appeal was Charles Osborne, the poet and former ACE Literature Director.

 

 

Now Dr Alastair Niven OBE, Principal of Cumberland Lodge in Windsor Great Park, has put his name to our petition.  Dr Niven, past President of English PEN, is a former Literature Director of both Arts Council England and the British Council.

 

 

Alastair Niven is also championing the cause of the Centerprise Literature Project, in Hackney, east London, which faces a total funding cut from ACE.

 

 

And actress VANESSA REDGRAVE and Booker Prize-winning novelist IAN McEWAN have now signed Arcadia’s letter against cuts, joining over 600 luminaries of the arts and literary world.
COMMENT: Please email [email protected] and ask him to accept the Dedalus challenge and compare Dedalus to 4 other Regularly funded publishers.If he will not accept the challenge ask him to reinsert Dedalus’s funding as he has already conceded the argument.



Eric Lane



PRESS RELEASE 4th February 2008



DEDALUS SINGLED OUT BY THE ARTS COUNCIL



Dedalus is the only publisher funded regularly by the Arts Council to have been dropped.



Of the 14 publishers funded regularly by The Arts Council in 2007/8, every other publisher has had its funding increased in line with inflation or above.



It would be surprising if all the other 13 publishers had out-performed Dedalus. Are their books better? Does their work more closely reflect the stated policies and aims of the Arts Council? The Arts Council doesn’t know, since, if the few documents in Dedalus’s disinvestment file are anything to go by, it has not compared Dedalus with any of its other clients, let alone publishers of literary fiction or poetry. Indeed, it would appear that ACE,E has not read or assessed a book by Dedalus in the last 4 years.



Dedalus has challenged The Arts Council to follow its own Disinvestment Guidelines and formally compare its work with 4 of its other publishers according to the perfectly sensible and fair criteria laid down in those guidelines.



Dedalus has been dropped by The Arts Council without any consideration of the public benefit of the books it publishes or the value for money which it offers.



The Arts Council has refused to release key documents in the Dedalus file, which again, is contrary to the Disinvestment Guidelines.  A decision without evidence, or any comparison to back it up, is arbitrary at best. But when the documentation on which the decision is based has to be kept secret, it is a cause for public disquiet.



If ACE does not accept the Dedalus challenge it will already have conceded the argument. Namely that its disinvestment from Dedalus is an arbitrary decision deriving solely on the fact that Dedalus is based in the East of England, an Arts Council area where the managers have no interest in publishing. In ACE,E, Literature is part of the Visual Arts Department, and has been without a Literature Officer for the last 7 months.



We call for no more than simple justice: for the Arts Council to follow its own procedures as outlined in its Disinvestment Guidelines.



For further details contact:

 

Eric Lane on 01487 832382

 

Or email [email protected]

 

For ACE

 

Email [email protected]
DATE: 02/04/2008 12:14:37 PM

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