*Stars Back Arts Lobby Group Launched TodayDate: 24 March 1999
The Shadow Arts Council (SAC), a self-styled positive pressure group and 'platform for argument, dispute and noise', was launched this morning in London. The group, first publicly acknowledged last month at the Laurence Olivier Awards by Sir Peter Hall, is chaired by Hall and comprises more than 100 artists and those involved in the arts. The initial membership list, which reads like a who's who of the country's theatrical firmament, includes playwrights Tom Stoppard, Harold Pinter and Caryl Churchill, director Richard Eyre and actors Judi Dench, Eileen Atkins, Michael Gambon and Simon Callow.
At a press conference held this morning at the Old Vic Theatre, former home to Hall's repertory company which has now disbanded due to lack of funding, Hall was joined by his deputy chairmen - John Tusa, managing director of the Barbican Centre, and Norman Rosenthal, exhibitions secretary at the Royal Academy of Art. Each emphasised that they were not participating as representatives of any organisation or political party but simply as individuals concerned about the future of the arts.
'I care very much about where the arts are going,' said Hall. 'I want my children to have them. I don't want my children to be fed solely on a diet of internationalised, dumbed-down television. And that is coming, there is no doubt about it.'
Hall outlined the aims of the Shadow Arts Council as: 1) to represent those who need the arts and want them to flourish; 2) to bring pressure on government to recognise the societal importance of the arts, versus popular entertainment; 3) to put the arts back into the education system at all levels; and 4) to provide artistic, rather than bureaucratic, guidance to subsidy-giving bodies such as the Arts Council of England.
The director pointed out that the arts world has reached crisis point after 'twenty years of underfunding' and the mutation of the Arts Council into a government-led organisation run almost exclusively by business managers with very little understanding of the arts. Though the government has allocated a 15 percent rise in funding, said Hall, only 5 percent is being distributed by the Arts Council. The rest, he claimed, is being hoarded or wasted on bureaucracy and inappropriate management strategies and feasibility studies. As a result, 55 percent of regional theatres are now on standstill grants and facing closure. 'I think a decision has been taken at the Arts Council to squeeze the small theatres so that they'll go to the wall and then the Arts Council can concentrate on the big players,' Hall surmised.
He also bemoaned the status of artists in the UK. 'We live in a country where the word 'intellectual' is pejorative. Even the term 'art' or 'artist' is still fairly suspect,' said Hall. He blamed the deterioration over recent decades on the long-term Conservative government. 'There are people who work their guts out for very, very little money for something they think is important, the arts. But Thatcher didn't think the arts were necessary so we became second-class citizens.' The present Labour government, Hall believes, has not helped at all to remedy the situation.
It was also announced at the conference that similar groups are now being formed to lobby on behalf of the arts in Scotland and Wales. A Scottish equivalent could be launched as soon as next month.
The Shadow Arts Council is funded solely by donations and membership (at a cost of £10 per individual). An administrator has been appointed to handle public enquiries - phone the helpline on +44-171-228-4916 for further information.