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Mind over matter: Expensive art – who has the right to judge it?

Posted on 15 November 2011 Written by

More than ever, in our current economic climate, seeking and securing arts funding is hard. 206 organisations that received funding last year from Arts Council England will not receive portfolio finding next year. What will happen to those organisations? Some will change their funding methods and manage to successfully stay afloat, but for some smaller companies being creative just isn’t enough. Production plans have been cancelled, venues changed and audiences disappointed.

Obviously, decisions have to be made by someone somewhere and funding needs to be distributed, but if funding is given to an organisation and, as a tax paying citizen, we don’t like the art that organisations produce, do we have a right to object? Can I stand up and be annoyed that I have funded the Donmar when I am more of a Shakespeare’s Globe kind of girl?

The recent controversy surrounding the RSC’s production of Marat Sade has left me questioning: what does give someone the right to decide what art is worthy of being seen and what is not? The tax payer apparently expects something from the RSC, maybe ‘good Shakespeare’ or ‘traditional theatre’ (whatever that means), and when this is not met some people fly off the handle. But what gives someone the right to judge how useful theatre has been for society ?

Marat Sade may have caused regular RSC goers to leave the auditorium, but it may also have brought new people into the RSC – people who may have never been to the theatre before. Statistically, the figures might not be as great financially, but ACE claims to “get great art to everyone by championing, developing and investing in artistic experiences that enrich people’s lives”. Enrichment should certainly not mean sticking to the rules. In fact, as artists we surely have a duty not to stick to the rules but to try new things, be experimental and hope that those who come to watch will take something thought-provoking away from it. Even a negative reaction provokes questions, discussions, debate and, most important of all, passion. Controversial theatre kindles the flame of thought and ethics; it reminds us that in a world where we feel deadened by the speed of commuting, fast food, and all other forms of short-lived fulfillment, we do still feel passionate about what we believe in.

The arts is one area of life, believe it or not, that cannot be judged in terms of the money it makes. Yes, it needs money to survive, but the idea isn’t that the tax payer puts money in to receive a definable service from the arts. We pay for creativity and that is going to include pushing boundaries. That is what theatre is about. I love new writing and I love Shakespeare so, personally, I want to pay money to see this kind of theatre. However I recognise (as the BBC keeps telling me) that there are nearly seven billion people in the world who all have different thoughts and feelings about what is good and what is not. I don’t like slapstick style comedy but One Man, Two Guvnors, currently playing at The National Theatre (which received £18.3 million in funding this year) has got fantastic reviews. It is not my type of thing but I’m glad that my money is making some people happy.

Essentially, you cannot put a price on art and you certainly cannot judge what people should and should not feel when they go to watch theatre that has been publically funded. Yes, the RSC has regular theatre goers to keep and an image to live up to, but it had eight shows on at the time of Marat Sade; if you didn’t want to watch it, then you should have chosen to watch one of the other seven shows that the tax payer was also funding.

Image by Jeff Arris.

Katey Warran

Katey Warran

Katey is Marketing and Communications Officer of A Younger Theatre and is Marketing Officer at Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre. She does freelance marketing including working for the New Actors Company, loves all things digital and has a passion for Applied and Community Theatre. Katey also has an interest in philosophy, enjoys singing and country music, and is a tea addict.

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