Can the arts be entertainment too?
On Tuesday night I went to see the Wizard of Oz, the wonderful (not bad actually) Wizard of Oz. Because, because, because... it was the press night.
Talent show-winner Danielle Hope put in a good turn as Dorothy (having recently finished an intensive three-month musical theatre course), as did the expensive looking sets. In fact they barely stopped turning, much to the amusement of Graham Norton who was sitting to my left.
And there was something rather surreal about seeing Dorothy moon-walking on the moving walkway - banging on about the yellow brick road - while Toto the (real) dog looked utterly perplexed as he was carried backwards by the mechanical floor.
It is very much "a show": a slickly crafted musical production designed to do the business for all parties. As was the National Theatre's recent hit Fela! (now moving on to Sadler's Wells) and the Royal Shakespeare Company's Matilda. And there's nothing wrong with that.
And yet the speaker list at RSA/Arts Council's recent State of the Arts conference would suggest that Andrew Lloyd Webber's show belongs to the world of entertainment and not the arts. No matter that there's an orchestra working away in the pit, or that it's a story laden with contemporary symbolism - greedy bankers, freak weather incidents, the dehumanising effects of industrialisation - or that it is likely to reach a broad audience. It is below the salt.
Conferences are dull - that's a fact. But they don't have to be the visionless effort that was the State of the Arts 2011 conference. The truth is it wasn't a conference about the state of the arts - there was no speaker representation from commercial theatre, pop music, publishing, fashion, architecture, writers, design, movies - it was an event for the subsidised arts community to spend the day together, enjoy a nice lunch and have a bit of a moan.
What a wasted opportunity. Is there nothing about reaching new audiences the subsidised sector could learn from the likes of impresarios such as Sonia Friedman and Cameron Mackintosh; or the threats and opportunities of new technology from Universal music or 1xtra; or about nurturing new talent and ideas from Random House or Burberry's Christopher Bailey.
The arts in the UK are the envy of the world. It's a vibrant, successful sector delivering for the public (and its purse), which has flourished through a close working relationship between the subsidised and commercial sectors. It is about time those organising the State of the Arts conference grasped that the sector's future lies in its ability to work together and inspire each other, and not by sub-dividing it into (worryingly smug )little cliques. Dorothy understood that.