When you gotta go, go! That was my message last month, and we should all drink to that.
I’ve got total respect for anyone who can walk away when they know their race is run and there time is done. The departing artistic director of the English National Ballet is exactly one of those people. He hasn’t said why he’s going, but he did tell the Telegraph that current funding levels could leave the ENB; “like one of those rather crappy touring Russian companies, with horrible sets, an orchestra of twenty and students with stick-on moustaches.”
So what will happen after he leaves? Everything and more. Someone will come in who relishes that particular challenge. Someone who loves stick-on moustaches and wants to work with orchestras. Someone who can see what support there is as a lifeline and not a shoestring. And wonderful things will continue to happen. Because a great artistic director really can work magic, just like a big-name football manager. They can turn the national team into an international success story.
But what about all the artistic directors who aren’t so good and or just worn out? Do you know any? Too many people in venues all across the UK make executive decisions about creative programming believing they always know what’s best for the public. Surrounded by strange consultants who know more about spreadsheets rather than sheets of music, they never tune into their staff, their local artistic community or their audiences to find out what people really think, want and need. Why would they after all they know best hey?
All too often they offer up the safe play or blame funding for being less risky. They keep bold new work away from the public and re-skin the classics to make them seem fashionable. “We have to be more commercial” is a boring phrase being used everywhere. Deep down they have no confidence in their audiences or themselves artistically. The Blair-era boom in funding brought this clique of people into the arts industry, yet they still manage to hang on into the DNA of venues while new artistic endeavours, young creatives & front of house staff on a fraction of their salaries seem to vanish, like a puff.
The US arts and recession “guru” Michael Kaiser has shown how vital it is to develop a powerful and holistic artistic vision in tough financial straits.
Always back the art, or people instigating the work. Will the arts in the UK really change? Let’s see hey.
* Ammo Talwar MBE is director of Punch Records