Opinion

Editorial, March: Maria Miller and the necessary ubiquity of life-size horse puppets

- 1 March 2014

I wonder how many in the arts community will have allowed themselves a frisson of schadenfreude at news of the culture secretary Maria Miller’s spot of bother regarding her expenses claims ‒ what a big difference the £90k in question would have made to a touring theatre company or a small regional arts venue. The parliamentary commissioner for standards recently released a report getting to the bottom of findings by a 2012 Telegraph investigation and, to be fair, it doesn’t sound like Miller is in any serious trouble (though press deadlines being what they are, that may have changed by the time you read this).

The culture secretary’s failure to make many friends in the arts world is hardly her fault, having found herself presiding over big cuts beyond her control. That they could have been yet bigger is somehow not particularly cheering. Then again, in her latest keynote speech on the value of culture, given towards the end of January at the British Museum, Miller was frustratingly vague. Let the artists work on ‘what makes our hearts sing’ (the title of the talk) ‒ from the DCMS we want to hear data, strategy, numbers. And let’s set a moratorium on any mention of War Horse in funding discussions, shall we? We all already agree that, from now on, everything must have a life-size horse puppet in it.

Someone else stuck between a rock and a shrinking budget is Sir Peter Bazalgette, whom we hear from in this issue. His dislike for the word ‘subsidy’ may seem like nit-picking, but he’s right, words are important – take a similar philosophical distinction between ‘social security’ and ‘benefits’, for example. I only wish his chosen alternative wasn’t ‘investment’, which carries so much meaning already. He goes on to explain his point; but if you need to explain it, maybe it isn’t the right word after all. Sometimes you need to fund art in the certain knowledge that it is going to be unsuccessful. That doesn’t sound like investment to me.

Some jolly news from Rhinegold Towers: we’re setting up a series of concerts at our very local Conway Hall. Baby steps and all that, we’re starting with six a year. The first one takes place on 3 April and features cello superstar and avid CM reader Julian Lloyd Webber. The concerts start early and will be free and informal, with a Q&A at the end..

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