Mayor Livingstone Denies Anti-Theatre ChargeDate: 24 October 2002
London mayor Ken Livingstone (pictured) has rounded against his theatreland critics who have accused him of being an enemy of the performing arts. They are absolutely "wrong", according to a strongly-worded letter from Livingstone published in today's edition of The Stage newspaper.
"It is an utter distortion to suggest that I am against the arts," writes the mayor. He says he recognises that the arts are "vital...to London's economic future" and maintains that "I am doing everything I can to support arts and culture in the capital".
In evidence, he itemises a number of cultural events and schemes that his office has spearheaded over the past 12 months, with particular emphasis laid on "the theatre ticket offer I funded earlier this year" which "was a huge success with more than 47,000 tickets sold."
"The Greatest Show on Earth" promotion was launched last December in the wake of the catastrophic downturn in tourist trade following 11 September. Billed as an early Christmas gift to Londoners and visitors to the city, the project was funded to the tune of £500,000 provided by the mayor's office for the distribution of discount tickets and free theatre passes.
The mayor's missive today in The Stage responded specifically to an earlier submission from a reader who accused Livingstone of not doing enough to support fringe and small-scale theatre. To this, the mayor pointed out that the Greater London Authority is not a grant-making body.
He went on: "It is not possible to support every single initiative as much as one might like to and I am sure that most Londoners do not regard increasing police numbers and improving public transport as counterposed to supporting the arts."
Last week, theatre owner and impresario Andrew Lloyd Webber launched a fresh attack against Livingstone in the House of Lords and the pages of the Evening Standard newspaper, with regards to central London infrastructural problems, in particular continuing road works and traffic gridlock in the West End which, he said, was "inducing chaos" and killing theatreland. (See News, 17 Oct 2002)
Lloyd Webber said: "West End theatres and the restaurant trade they supply customers for was generating more than £1 billion for London's economy last year. It is political lunacy to ignore that." He questioned the decision to close off several West End thoroughfares, lamenting "Why is Ken Livingstone doing this?"
- by Terri Paddock