4 The List 7 20 December 1990



22 November will go down in history for reasons other than the fact that MARK FISHER, Labour’s spokesperson on the arts. visited Glasgow. Philip Parr met him on the day the Thatcher era ended.

ast month. the arts world waited for the

inevitable. The new arts minister. David

Mellor. had built up a reputation at the

Department of l lealth for only

prescribing the minimum dose when it

came to public spending. In his new. more literary role. he was expected to be cast as a Scrooge who would sit back whilst the Treasury whittled arts funding down to zero. But there the Dickens similarities break down. because the inevitable didn’t happen. Instead he secured an eleven per cent increase in funding for the arts— above the current rate of inflation and beyond the wildest dreams of the arts world hierarchy. Many people’s thunder was stolen. not least ofall Labour‘s arts spokesman Mark Fisher who was waiting to launch the annual tirade on government ‘Philistines‘.

Fisher was in Glasgow to speak to the Scottish Arts Lobby. and refuted the claim that there was little left for Labour to criticise arts funding. ‘1 was pleased that the overall sum was very much higher than many had feared. but by the time that sum gets down through the Arts Council. through the regions to client companies. it‘s going to be well below the rate of inflation. A settlement below the level ofinflation will do nothing other than deepen their misery and their instability. When you add to that the effect that the Poll Tax is going to have on local authority support for those clients. you have a very black scenario. Sol do not think that we can award Mr Mellor more than about four out of ten for his settlement better than feared. but it really doesn‘t address the enormous problems that have occurred after eleven years of Tory neglect .‘

Fisher is, of course. in the enviable position of being able to criticise and promise without having to act. However. now that the Major honeymoon

'Rock music is all about sex. and you don't grow out at that.‘

period is at its height and recent polls suggest that Labour is not fielding its most electable team. the Shadow Cabinet is undergoing close scrutiny. Fisher. for one. is certainly able to inject fresh ideas into the stuffy corridors of Westminster he was recently quoted as saying that ‘rock music is all about sex. and you don‘t grow out of that‘. But people will expect his alternatives to Tory arts policies to go further than claiming that The Sugarcubes are his favourite group.

‘We are committed to making the arts a statutory responsibility on all local authorities. and making their expenditure eligible for a rates revenue support grant which currently stands at 49 per cent. That alone would inject a huge sum of money into the arts at a local community level and disperse those opportunities all around the country.‘

This only goes part of the way to solving a much wider problem. A Labour government would inherit a country filled with theatres. museums and galleries that are falling into disrepair and companies with huge defecits on the performing arts side. These would. he explains. be tackled ‘on a one-to-one basis. rather than a blanket amnesty. with the aim ofclearing them over the next three years.’

The key policy Labour will be pursuing requires companies to widen access and audiences in return for better funding. ‘In the short term there are many things that a company can do along the lines oftouring. outreach. and broadcasting. But if you really want to widen access in the long term. it is education that is the core. We will be bringing out a detailed arts and education paper in the new year which stresses that exploring children‘s own creative skills is crucial.

‘The other side is giving children the opportunity to see professional work writers in schools. dance animateurs and also going out of school to attend professional performances. museums and theatres. It should be a natural right ofevery child to leave school having at least once been to a theatre. a gallery. a dance performance, a concert and having had at least one opportunity to decide if those things mean anything at all to them.

“At the moment. many young people leave school never having been inside a theatre or gallery. Ifyou leave school at the age ofsixteen never having been in a gallery. then the mental barrier that’s put up by the rather imposing building and not knowing how to behave once inside. or how to communicate with the work inside. is so enormous that people would probably never go again in their lives. We ought to make it a starter for ten in any education policy that people leave school having been introduced to professional ranges ofculture in all their forms.‘

Fisher is confident that his policies will succeed. especially given the fact that his party is committed to setting up a Ministry for the Arts and Media in order to enforce them. On the subject of when this will come about. he is less definite but no less enthusiastic.

‘Whenever the Government calls a general election -— the sooner the better.‘


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