A few months ago, The Guardian’s pet right-wing columnist Simon Jenkins wrote a piece about funding for the arts. In his piece, Jenkins attacks the government for spending billions on high-end pieces of capital investment while the cut and thrust of British cultural life is mostly self-sustaining and subject to the laws of the marketplace. Jenkins wants us to take away from his piece that British cultural life does not need state funding but what I take away from it is the fact that the government has failed to focus on the right thing. A cultural life is not necessarily one based upon consumption of high-end artistic products such as the output of the Royal Opera House (which recently received a £2.4M recession bail out), but one based upon creation and participation. Which would benefit the most people? £2.4M so that the Royal Opera House can continue charging £60 instead of £80 for seats with only partial views of the stage or £2.4M for small theatre companies, amateur opera productions and magazines drawing attention to both? Culture is something that is there to be participated in. A healthy amateur scene not only gives future professionals a means of perfecting their crafts, it also makes it easier for people to try their hand at art and engage with it in a way other than through consumption.
The problem is that while scenes (whether they are theatrical, operatic, musical, artistic or anything else) are funded largely by good will, they do frequently depend upon people who demand rather more concrete remuneration than good will and social capital. These demands create over-heads. The higher the over-heads on artistic production, the greater the drain on good will. This leads to higher ticket prices, expensive membership subscriptions and greater and greater demands upon those people who are willing to contribute for the good of the scene. These demands are part of an attitude that can only be described as “Fuck you Pay Me”.