Give me theatre darling.

I saw Kevin Spacey talk on the importance of the Arts at the Great Methodist Hall, Westminster to a packed, adoring audience. This was the week before the Chancellor’s announcement on the cuts of 29% with which Arts Secretary Jeremy Hunt seemed, bizarrely, rather pleased.

But Kevin Spacey is not a luvvie when it come to arts…he’s a buttoned down, suit and tie businessman.

He has a clear vision of the need above all for resource and money and in broad terms what the payback is.

He describes the role of culture in our lives with a passionate force. The audience lapped it up with, sadly, no one saying “the cuts are going to happen; how do we cope? What’s the “creative solution” to this dilemma?” or “prove what you’re saying instead of stating it as though it’s obvious to any fool”.  It was a bit like seeing Roger Federer with no-one on the other side of the net.

Here’s some of what he said. I’m in small bold.

  1. Art is not a luxury it’s a necessity

    He said this a number of times in various ways. The nodding of heads was so vigorous that it was almost noisy. Is it true? A necessity like food, oxygen, sex? Art is a necessary and natural expression for sure. It has become a massive industry which at its grass roots has grown used to depend on funding. Without as much of it as we have right now we’d be pissed off but losing a lot of opera would cause less dismay than losing a lot of football. It’s the wheat and chaff argument. And there’s so much chaff in all art. Take books where 90% aren’t worth publishing. Maybe economic necessity will make us all tougher editors. 

  2. The UK’s creative industry and potential is its most powerful natural resource

    What a great line….probably true if we throw in all culture, media, new product development, experimental research . Surely this is the key to G.B. Limited’s future.

  3. Government funding will be cut; philanthropic giving will fall. And  we are not making a strong enough economic argument for the arts

    Gasp, shock, horror. Yes, the tax incentives to invest in the arts are either non- existent or not interesting.  The robustness of the pro-arts lobby is simply not robust enough currently. Passionate belief and sustainable conviction are different. Yet the French have just increased their spending on the arts by 2% raising their budget to £6.4 billion (compared with our £400 million or thereabouts). So what the hell’s going on?

  4. As regards corporate philanthropy; think of the arts as a key to marketing not an altruistic extra. (“The arts are central to our product” say American Airlines – a big sponsor of the Old Vic.)

    Philanthropy is not enough; corporate giving will happen because there’s a payback too and with the US corporate sponsors the payback is argued with forensic calm. The big question is still whether enough of us really think the arts matter enough. Imagine a headline “Government to cut number of football matches by 29%”.

  5. “There is nothing worth having in life if you can’t share it – especially money”

    The great Spacey philosophy…he could have sent a bucket around the audience at this point especially as The Old Vic receives no government funding. This came from the heart of a man who truly is a great salesman. I’m using this line at my next pitch.

  6. Theatre is the key to giving and to understanding the key customer facing element of customer service

    Hmm! But that’s not why we go or what justifies it except as a very remote side benefit. Having said that the best restaurant service in NYC and increasingly here seems to come from “resting” actors.

  7. Cultural centres are magnets for money – e.g. The South Bank

    Interestingly economically stricken Rotherham is parading its new Arts Centre, theatre and sculptures as their sign of hope for the future. Brighton has a good economic argument for the Arts but apart from the London= Arts = Tourism model it’s all pretty patchy stuff.

  8. “Send the elevator back down”

    The Jack Lemmon line describing the need of those who’ve made it to help those trying to make it in any walk of life –  but especially the Arts. Go to Ken Robinson on TED and look at the argument for making the arts much more central to our educational system. Read Richard Morrison in the Times.

  9. There’s at least one motive for being very, very positive – and that’s it really pisses off cynics

    Right at the centre of the whole argument is this conflict between enthusiasts, experimenters, won’t-be-deterred-by-failures, believers in talent, dancers, singers and artists versus the functional cynics who create “black holes” of woe wherever they go.

  10. “Ask not what the economy can do for the arts; ask what the arts can do for the economy”

    The key question. And the answer is…?

  11. “We have to make the arts affordable for the young if we are to survive.” Art is not made at home…it’s made with people.” Tax relief is the key – keep on saying it

    Yes do keep on saying it. The Old Vic has very cheap tickets for the young – every night. Every theatre needs to have a bunch on offer – and front, not back row tickets. There’s a really inspiring marketing thought here for sponsors too. Unless we recruit the next generation afficionados we’re sunk.

  12. Did you know Broadway is the largest tourist draw in the USA– is this true?

    Not quite Kevin. It’s actually Times Square that comes top. Still give the guy a break – he’s an actor, a dramatist of truth not a statistician or a purveyor of fact.

  13. The trouble with sponsorship is it’s like…”Giving the money with one hand and holding your balls with the other.”

    Well yes. They want their money back and then some. One joker in the audience who ran a “Branded Entertainment” outfit wanted to know what licence Spacey would give to content change in theatre. I think the guy actually meant could Othello have a happy ending – courtesy of Persil or whoever.  Fortunately no one got it! Watch this space though- Sir Martin Sorrell of WPP has his eye on this “opportunity”.

  14. Win the argument with tangible, identifiable, human results.

    In the Spectator Kevin (now in print) says: “arts venues bring money to all the surrounding businesses in their environment. That’s just true”. And it probably is but it needs to be proved Kevin. The need for great, incontrovertible argument has never been greater.

  15. “As long as there are stories that people want to share, theatre will survive.”

    And the arts as a whole. So long as the proponents of the arts are not pretentious. I have in mind Stephen Bailey’s current crusade to stop “dumbing-down” the National Trust regardless of the fact these initiatives to popularise it are such a commercial success.  It needs a lot of people to “share” the experience for the pr-arts lobby to succeed.

The need to take a new view of the arts and to judge precisely how it works within the economic and social framework is overdue. Kevin Spacey is a great ambassador. Some of us need to give him an even more compelling script.

Richard Hall 1.11.10

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