The Playgoer: Hytner: "Don't Give Our £ to the Olympics!"

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Monday, March 05, 2007

Hytner: "Don't Give Our £ to the Olympics!"

I like how Nicholas Hytner lately has frequently used his post at the Royal National Theatre as a bully pulpit, to speak not just as an "arts leader" but a civic leader, representing not just an arts org but a big and important constituency in the scheme of gov't funding.

(He also made an opportunity of his last season announcement to editorialize a bit.)

Here he is in the Guardian last week, sounding the alarm over news of the Labor government's pressure to divert funds for the folly of the 2012 London Olympics. "The government could squander 10 years of cultural investment," as he bluntly puts it.

Also, a proud and unapologetic defense of Labor's strong record so far on the arts, rightly reminding all of the good results:

Ten years of Gordon Brown at the Treasury have been good for the arts. Subsidy has doubled. The theatre, in particular, has flourished. There is now a unique vibrancy about British performing arts that is universally recognised and envied.

Evidence emerged in a recent Italian study that surprised us more than it surprised the Italians. It revealed that far fewer Italians visit museums or go to the theatre than we do. The birthplace of opera and cradle of the Renaissance, Italy has intermittently subsidised its performing arts much more generously than we ever have. But arts patronage in Italy and the rest of Europe has historically been at the whim of the prince or the state, and for their glory. By contrast, arts patronage here has put at the top of its agenda the engagement of the widest possible public with the best possible art. As a result, nowhere are more people more often galvanised by the best their performing artists have to offer.

Notice how he smartly pitches this appeal both to artsy purists and to free-marketers. As he reminds readers, the combination of hucksterism + subsidy was always the winning model for the great English theatre tradition, even in "the old days." "The Globe," he says, was "reliant on the box office but uncompromising in its ambition. And, not incidentally, dependent on a degree of state patronage."

(Reminds me of a revealing anecdote Wendy Wasserstein used to tell of being forced into an awkward conversation with Newt Gingrich at the height of the NEA controversies. "Arthur Murray didn't need a grant to write Death of a Salesman," the self-styled professorial Newt asserted. After pointing out that the great American play was not the work of a dancing school entrepreneur, she added that Mr. Miller did begin on grants--when they were called the WPA.)

I hope Hytner can inspire our own AD's to start addressing more public audiences. It would be good for the theatre (not to mention--their theatres) to see more of Oskar Eustis, Andre Bishop, Tim Sandford, and--yes--Jim Nicola on our own op-ed pages more frequently.

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