The Plinth in the Rain

As I’m writing this it’s raining. Actually, it’s pouring. And the poor guy who is just being lifted onto the 4th Plinth in Trafalgar Square is going to get very wet (although, to be fair, he’s brought an umbrella with him).
To anyone not familiar with this extraordinary happening (I’m not sure what other word to use) should either head down to Traflagar Square or – given the weather! – log onto:

It says a great deal about the British sense of self-awareness and openness.  This is an open, public, space which is being celebrated as a piece of art – or:  a piece of art being celebrated as a public, open space.  People, Londoners, whoever they are, are ferried onto the Plinth – prized for major pieces of public art.  (The other three plinths have statues of major military figures.)  A willingness to perform in front of crowds (not today, obviously), to be pilloried, laughed at, or just gawped-at.  A diversity and openness which is not forced or false.  Like the childish innocence of dancing or drawing without any concern of one’s audience.

It’s difficult to think of a more conventional cultural equivalent or offering.

What happened to the recession?

Now that green shoots are being seen everywhere, what happened to the plans for the arts and creative sector to lead us out of recession?

By all accounts, the New Deal of the Mind is still going strong – with plenty of supporters across the subsidised sector; and, of course, CCS will still find time to publish pieces about the role of culture and creativity after the crunch. But where are the new initiatives? Whatever happened to the plans by Blears and Burnham to give vacant shops to artists? Or Purnell’s plans for a creative workforce?

Some of the plans may well have got underway, but I haven’t heard about arts or creative groups benefitting. Where are the Arts Council in all this? Or the RDAs? (Whatever happened to Creative London?)

The attached paper sets out some simple, practical, ideas which could be got off the ground soon. Anyone interested?

In praise of John Berger

Understanding the conflict and tension between the ‘instrumental’ and ‘intrinsic’ value of culture is dealt with elsewhere in this blog. John Berger had this extraordinary ability to combine learned insight with the instinctive understanding of an artist.
He had been an artist of course, giving up in the early ’50s, before taking up a career as a writer and critic. His early pieces for New Stateman see him grappling with the challenge of social connectivity – which he looked for in art, and which he attempted to convey in his own writing – and an understanding of the artistic value inherent in the gesture of the brushstroke.
Some of the essays, collected in ‘Permanent Red’, achieve that balance; many do not.
It was when he turned to novel-writing – or a kind of ‘novel’ and a kind of ‘writing’ – that his work began to mature.
His two greatest works in my view are ‘And our faces, my heart….‘, and ‘A Fortunate Man‘. The former is an extraordinary, poetic, evocation of human passion and the love of art. The second simply follows the life of a country doctor – through description, reflection, occasional didacticism, and photographs. Published in 1967, it is a clear precursor to the work for the Into Their Labours series and other books, for which he is better known, written 20 and more years later.

He is one of the greatest writers on culture, for his ability to engage with and articulate the political and emotional value of culture.

Arts funding in the US

I’m grateful to Ed Vaizey’s regular weekly newsletter for this link.

This is interesting article on the way in which the arts made their case for additional funding through the big fiscal stimulus package recently won by Barack Obama. It was fantastic to see a politician having the arts as integral to an economic package – but this article points out the need for a better long-term strategy.

Arts Council Chair

I note that, on stepping down as Arts Council Chair, Christopher Frayling bemoaned the fact that he was criticised to fiercely at the time of the rather-poorly-managed funding cuts made last year – even by people who were not directly affected. What on earth does he expect? Worse – he seems to equate a lack of respect for the Arts Council with a lack of commitment to arts funding.

Frayling and Hewitt did a fairly good job of obtaining more funding and keeping the Arts Council out of the news during that period (up until the end of their tenure, that is). But let’s not kid ourselves that the Arts Council is somehow above the law. I hope Liz Forgan can be a more humble and courageous promoter of the arts – not worrying about carping from the arts world (hey, what’s the surprise there), nor constant bickering with the Ministers who tend to push their case in Whitehall, but making the case for the arts across Government and the private sector.