Mark Ravenhill: Austerity 'could be good for arts'

Mark Ravenhill Mark Ravenhill warned that the arts could lose all of its public funding

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One of Britain's leading playwrights has said funding cuts could be "a good thing" for the arts because artists would be less "safe and well behaved".

Mark Ravenhill said he was against cuts but that the performing arts had been compromised by a "cosy" relationship with funders over the past 15 years.

He said artists "weren't telling the truth" about the world often enough when public funding was more plentiful.

His comments came in the Edinburgh Fringe's opening address.

Ravenhill, who is currently writer in residence at the Royal Shakespeare Company, is one of the most acclaimed and provocative voices in modern British drama.

In the address, he said: "Any party that gets in to power in Westminster at the next election will be committed to the ideology, and plain wrong mathematics, of austerity."

Speaking in Edinburgh on Friday, he predicted that theatres and other art forms would experience "increasingly tough times for at least a decade or more".

"But let's look on this as a good thing," he continued. "Didn't the arts become safe and well behaved during the New Labour years? I think they did.

"I think they weren't telling the truth - the dirty, dangerous, hilarious, upsetting, disruptive, noisy, beautiful truth - as often as they should have done.

"Why? Because most artists are decent, liberal, if only everyone were nicer to each other and let's heal it with a hug sort of folk and so voted New Labour."

When Labour came to power in 1997, there was "for a few years a modest but real terms increase in government funding for the arts", he said.

"And we artists were so grateful for that relatively modest bit of attention and money that we changed substantially what and who we were as artists."

Start Quote

Maybe the artist free of any relationship with any public funding body is freest of all? ”

End Quote Mark Ravenhill

He said the arts world "went astray" in the 1990s and become distracted by a focus on urban renewal, corporate sponsorship and social inclusion, rather than reflecting the real world.

"Artists are needed more now than ever before," he told members of the theatre community at the Fringe.

"You're the ones who have the freedom, if you choose to use it, to think of new possibilities, crazy ideas, bold, idealistic, irrational, counterintuitive, disruptive, naughty, angry words and deeds.

"Because these are the only things that can adequately respond to such a huge meltdown in capitalism and the only way that we might find a way forward in to a different future."

In England, funding to the Arts Council was cut by 30% in 2010, followed by smaller subsequent reductions. The Department For Culture, Media and Sport, which provides core funding for Arts Council England, was given a 7% cut in the most recent government spending review in June.

Creative Scotland, which distributes funds in Scotland, has had small cuts. Many local authorities are also reducing their culture budgets.

Ravenhill also warned that there was a "real possibility" that the arts could lose all of its public funding over the next decade.

"Would that mean all of the performing arts becoming safer and duller?" asked the writer, whose plays include Mother Clap's Molly House and The Cut.

"Maybe the artist free of any relationship with any public funding body is freest of all? If I didn't have to fill in forms, tick boxes, prove how good, nice, worthy me and my project are to a well meaning gatekeeper, maybe I'd make something better - more truthful, more radical?

"Anything and everything is worth thinking about and questioning."

At this year's Edinburgh Fringe, Ravenhill has co-written a cabaret show titled Tell Me The Truth About Love, which reworks and adds to songs written by WH Auden and Benjamin Britten.


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  • rate this

    Comment number 261.

    If you had read previous comments you would see that investment in the arts produces more public investment for healthcare or childcare. And for the 'just for luvvies' comments, that makes millions of luvvies in the UK. It is sad that the negative comments are from people who can't just be proud of something we are great at, is enjoyed by many and hurts nobody at all.

  • rate this

    Comment number 260.

    The Arts have been well and truly hijacked by Dave's upper class mates (look at the grant rich RSC who show 37 plays year after year after year - ok plus a little something from Bill's contemporaries). Lord Snooty and his pals are actually telling us what it is we can see and we have fallen for it hook, line and sinker.

  • rate this

    Comment number 259.

    The only way forward is to go backwards. A return to 'putting it on right here in the barn'. Getting read by the people who count is nigh on impossible and the only people who are doing OK are the people who get used time and time again because they are safe. I'm afraid its back to the days of the strolling player. Unless of course u can find a nice number at the RSC.

  • rate this

    Comment number 258.

    If you make music, you can reach an unlimited audience if you're good enough and you're making music people want to hear. Or you can make very self-indulgent music and it will stay hidden from most people in some internet backwater.

    If you make "art" you try to get some funding so as to persuade people to come and find that little backwater where you can continue to be self-indulgent.

  • rate this

    Comment number 257.

    IN order to enjoy any of the Arts the public has to get over listening to reviews & thinking you may have missed something because the reviewers think its wonderful.

    No matter what the so called experts say, I think all of Picasso's paintings are ugly trash.

  • rate this

    Comment number 256.

    254. pyaklich
    >>>I work at an art museum where I regularly watch the public ignore the well funded darlings of contemporary art.

    I have to agree. Much of the art world is run by people who suffer from "the curse of the specialist" - they live and breath art to the extent that they've lost touch with what is truly good - which is how they are so easily gulled by conmen (and women).

  • rate this

    Comment number 255.

    Comes to mind Prince Charles did say something about cities/towns should stop wasting money putting big sculptures in squares rather than doing things that kept or brought people out and about in the evening. Small theaters, clubs, and open air performances in warm weather just might do that.

  • rate this

    Comment number 254.

    I work at an art museum where I regularly watch the public ignore the well funded darlings of contemporary art. Then I'll go out to local art shows and see unfunded genius and works that the public actually like. The grant process is so broken that its curtailment could only improve matters. Museums just buy what the big money tells them to, which no one actually wants to see.

  • rate this

    Comment number 253.

    Let the ranks of the unemployed inspire them even more.

    The subject itself here and how it is described shows the class system, and indeed the wealthy, are still well and truly in charge.

    Nothing changes.

    Austerity for some, while the rest look at art.

  • rate this

    Comment number 252.

    The Arts ?

    Normal people don't's just for luvies.

  • rate this

    Comment number 251.

    Decadence is not conducive to Art
    Much of the 'art'' we have seen of recent time reeks of decadence and appears to be luvvies who are more concerned with self promotion and the money they can make via BS than true Art.
    I hope to see less of middle class twits sponsored by mummy and daddy to promote their inflated egos and more TRUE artists

  • rate this

    Comment number 250.

    If they created a new system of travelling rep companies which allowed young people a chance to learn their craft and gave those of us in the provinces the chance to see decent theatre at a reasonable price then I'd be all for subsidizing it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 249.

    The removal of all public funding of the 'arts' would be a step in the right direction. The 'arts' are hardly the oft-quoted 'vital front-line services' we all hear so much about. Given the choice between funding the 'arts' or funding child care or aged people's care, there is only one real choice isn't there?

  • rate this

    Comment number 248.

    The day the working classes get their entertainments funded by the rest of us, will be the day i shout "Bingo".

  • rate this

    Comment number 247.

    Silly me I left out the Bankers & quantative easing a gift off dear old Merv BoE & lets not forget the BBC I suggest you take a leaf out of the education secretarys lucid idea & start teaching your Children MacBeth, I'm still not sure what planet he came from. In a nutshell the poor are like an inanimate object they stay the same for centuries. I'm off to whistle the Eton boating song now, TA TA !

  • rate this

    Comment number 246.

    Oh dear HYS Midweek Britain was at an all time high after the Jubilee & the Olympics a survey the next day said 50% of people were in so much debt they couldn't make ends meet & 50% of them were living on a knife-edge. The poor have always subsidized the whims of the rich eg; MPs expense, their bars in Parliament the Royals, tax cuts for the rich/loopholes, these people expect you to do so! GOT IT

  • rate this

    Comment number 245.

    The arts are like the church an upper class pastime, the majority of people cant afford to attend or support either they are too busy trying to put food on the table and pay heating and rent, the arts wont stop your kids going hungry nor put a roof over your head.

  • rate this

    Comment number 244.

    What's the truth? Your truths or mine? People are no longer delusional enough to actually think that they can change the world. We're more aware of how fascist the world is or becoming due to the internet. And all the artists with some real integrity probably have already starved to death or found some other things to do than whoring themselves in this stupidest thing called the "art world"!

  • rate this

    Comment number 243.

    Are we talking about poetry for instance - I like a good lamentation.

    It would be a funny statement if it were not so serious.

    Some are from a different planet.

  • rate this

    Comment number 242.

    Mr. Ravehill is rightly upset about the cuts, and was (I believe) calling on fellow artists to be angry wtih him.
    But austerity will make artist more dependent on what appeals to a broader public than museums, galleries, foundations and corporate buyers of art as investment. So they will still be beholden to others; I doubt most of them become "freer spirits". Some might, most probably won't.


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