What is going on at Arts Council England? Following a purge, five out of six of its art form directors have been ‘let go’, including Literature’s highly respected Gary McKeone. Bizarrely, the Chair of Arts Council England, Sir Christopher Frayling, doesn’t seem to have a clue. In an article in The Sunday Times* he revealed that he had been taken aback by the exodus: ‘I didn’t realise that the changes would be so dramatic. It might seem like a huge purge. Yes, the council is now a very tense and demoralised place,’ he said.
Could this have been a cost cutting exercise? Apparently not, since it is planned to appoint new directors in Spring ’07 for the same salaries. Curiouser and curiouser, the arts quango is currently applying to government for investment just at the moment it has created a vacuum by losing its art form directors. An Arts Council weakened in this way is unlikely to achieve more than standstill funding which will inevitably have a deleterious impact on current and future initiatives.
One of Arts Council England’s lead advisors, the poet Jackie Kay, has resigned and literature organisations have been united in their shock and anger at these events. McKeone had achieved a considerable amount for literature and built bridges in the sector. The opportunity for consolidation and further development has now been lost. For example, in the last two issues of BfK we reported on the Diversity Matters conference in June which was an Arts Council funded initiative. From this important starting point hopes were raised that the momentum achieved at the conference could be kept up. Follow up initiatives were to be planned. Is Acting Director John Hanson now supposed to do all this on his own?
With a Chairman who doesn’t seem to know what is going on and a Council that has been strangely silent, can we hope that Tessa Jowell, Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, will spare a moment from the complexities of the BBC Charter and the Olympics to ask some tough questions?
Take 3: Poets
Rules make the writing of a poem more challenging and exciting and for this issue’s Take 3: Poets we not only asked our three poets, Valerie Bloom, Tony Mitton and Michael Rosen, to write about themselves but to do it via Clerihew, Ode, Elegy and Couplet. The challenge has been superbly met as you will see on page 9.
* quoted in The Sunday Times , 15 October 2006