Theatre in Wales

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Summer Arts Book (2): Arts Leadership from an Arts Leader

Theatre Critic Book

John Tusa , I B Tauris , June-22-16
Theatre Critic Book by John Tusa John Tusa was a guest critic on “Front Row” this month. His voice had a familiarity for those of long memory. He was an authoritative presenter for the first days of “Newsnight” before departing for the Barbican and then the Clore Leadership Programme. “Pain in the Arts” is two years old but books written from the inside on the politics and funding of the arts and culture are few. Tusa and Robert Hewison are the topic’s two best witnesses. “Pain in the Arts” has both breadth and punch.

Tusa is first and foremost a participant and combatant. He is there to witness a New Labour Culture Secretary in the cold month of January 2009. “Some people may not like it” says the minister “but the arts [sic] has to live in the real world.” Every director’s memoir or diary of recent times has its tales of faithless landlords, hostile local authorities, building and engineering problems, simmering industrial relations strife. Tusa only adds of Andy Burnham: “the thought that the arts did not live in a real world of artistic and commercial risk seemed not to occur to him.”

Tusa is frank on his third page. It takes bravery to stand up to power. “Doing so involves personal as well as institutional courage.” His context is 2013 and the ministerial ejection of Liz Forgan from the Arts Council of England. But a quiet timidity in the Tusa view misreads the nature of the game. “The real lesson from Whitehall is that bureaucrats and policy makers only respect those who resist and fight back…the weak and frightened are pursued and mauled; the strong are respected and accommodated. Ask any retired Whitehall veteran and they confirm that this is the prevailing mindset.”

Tusa’s advice in his chapter “the War of the Words: Language Matters” is indispensable reading in itself. He notices the removal of specific categories like “listener”, “viewer”, “traveller”, “patient”. Their replacement by “the one size fits all, dehumanising “customer” is harbinger of downward spiral “to the point where it produced inferior service.”

The chapter “the Dos and Don’ts of Running the Arts” has a subsection “What Price Metrics?” Most organisations, public and private, have lost touch with the great founders of Total Quality Management who used numerical tools like SPC (Statistical Process Control) both sparely and specifically. If numbers predominate then policy will follow. “To create an artistic policy driven by numbers as a priority inevitably skews the policy itself.” Tusa cites a Whitehall meeting. A corporate leader states that four objectives are easily enough for his people. The Minister is discomfited; his Department has drawn up thirty-eight objectives.

“Pain in the Arts” tackles the economics. Statistical declaration has had a kicking this season and rightly. Anish Kapoor declares “the arts are the second biggest sector after banking.” It sounds fake- bigger than grocery? The fact of the multiplier effect of the arts is obvious, its scale far less so. Tusa puts forward a factor of six. He cites a piece of research (no reference) that within the City Of London, only a square mile, arts and culture add £225 million and sustain 6700 fulltime jobs. Nesta’s figures for 2103 are that the creative economy employs 2.5m and accounts for 9.7% of Britain’s Gross Value Added.

“Britain does not do dialectic” declared Richard Parry this month midway on the eighty day journey of the Coleridge in Wales venture. Britain does not do complexity. Public and private, Tusa reinforces emphatically, are symbiotic. Eighty-seven percent of those in commercial theatre learnt a part of their craft in a subsidised setting. As former CEO of a venue of great complexity Tusa does not shy away from the rigour of management. He has five pages headed “the nine functions of management.” They are as good as any. The first requirement for management in the arts: “enjoy and appreciate.”

A book on the arts will embrace words of artists. The making of art is an activity as elusive in its end as any endeavour of science and Tusa enrols Harrison Birtwhistle on the waywardness of composition. The antagonists of art are not necessarily libertarian think-tanks or public sector financiers. They may well have the look of allies. Raising awareness of a social ill is far from the aspiration to seize and hold the viewer’s imaginative sensibilities. Mark Ravenhill is cited here: “we belittle art when we make it into information.”

Reviewed by: Adam Somerset

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