The week in the arts
It was a week of two Dames. And Grayson Perry.
The stars came out and lit up the airwaves to pay tribute to Dame Elizabeth Taylor after she died on Wednesday.
Barbra Streisand said: "it's an end of an era. It wasn't just her beauty or stardom. It was her humanitarianism. She made life count". While Martin Landau who appeared with the "aubergine-eyed" actress in Cleopatra (just how big a gooseberry did he feel?) thought she was, "a unique talent and a singularly spectacular individual". Michael Caine simply said she was, "a great human being".
Of course there was plenty of talk about her penchant for men. She herself admitted that she tended to "sashay up to men, but walk up to women". And Debbie Reynolds - whose husband (Eddie Fisher) left her for Liz Taylor - observed that, "women liked her...men adored her". There was little mention of her friendship with Michael Jackson, which I thought said a lot about her. They were part of the same exclusive club, called Child Stars Who Were Even Better When They Grew Up And Then Became Legends In Their Own Lifetime. It is an unusual (and I imagine utterly weird) human experience that they shared; they understood each other, like nobody else could.
Another aspect of her life that went uncommented upon was just how many people she knew. I stopped counting on Thursday evening after the hundredth "the time I met Liz Taylor story" was recounted to me. Meeting Liz seems to be right up there with the first Pistols gig and Damien Hirst's Freeze exhibition, as an event an improbable amount of people appear to have experienced. Her lust for life and aptitude to "go large" given a choice was well documented. But it was her advocacy work to fight fear and prejudice about HIV/AIDS, to stand up and be counted when few others would and to use (and risk) her celebrity to do so, which showed that Michael Caine's assessment of her was spot on: Dame Elizabeth Taylor was one heck of a human being.
Dame Vivien Duffield is not unimpressive either. Her dad spent his life making money, she has spent hers giving it away. The £8.2 million pounds she donated this week adds to the £50 million-plus she has dished out since 2000. Arts and education tend to be her thing -particularly when they are combined. She's paid for education spaces to be created in theatres and museums across Britain and for their best staff to go on The Clore Leadership Programme. I don't know how good the actual training course is, but I do know that being selected to go on it is like putting afterburners on your career.
Grayson Perry who became a member of the Royal Academy this week
But her good deeds can't pay for everything. I was at a school in Jarrow, South Tyneside, yesterday. It is not a wealthy area of the country and the school has had its share of problems. But what I saw was exceptional. A publically funded programme called Find Your Talent had paid for the internationally renowned choreographer Wayne Macgregor's company to come to the school for a week or so and teach some of the pupils to dance. They loved it, were flattered by the attention and responded with enthusiasm and commitment. Their assessment of the experience was illuminating. They told me that not only had they learnt a lot, but it had changed their attitude to school in general and their school in particular. They said they were now proud to go to Jarrow School, when once they were not. And you could feel the positive vibe throughout the school. Macgregor had not only given the pupils confidence, but it had given the school confidence.
The Find Your Talent programme was a victim of the recent cuts, as was another major arts education scheme. The £50 million pounds that has been taken out of this grass-roots type of activity is bound to have a material effect. Next week Arts Council England announces its funding decisions; who's for the chop and who is not. I suspect that they will want to reverse some of their cuts to arts education. But will any new figure come remotely close to the £50 million that has been taken away. And will there be money put aside to cover the costs of artists such as Wayne Macgregor to work in schools, which according to some is a vital element of arts education. Or will it simply be money to employ people to 'build bridges.'
And finally, congratulations to Grayson Perry RA - for becoming a member of the Royal Academy.