first published at www.artsprofessional.co.uk
The holiday season can play strange tricks on one’s associative sensibilities. Examples abound: Pine trees + living rooms = bubbly cheer. Bad choral singing + overstuffed shopping malls = community spirit. Likewise, events that in less emotionally heightened times might appear to have little in common suddenly seem to burst with connection.
Here’s what I mean: last week, two items of news melded together in what felt like oracular fashion for me. The first item could hardly be missed: the announcement of the London 2012 Festival, the 12-week arts-a-thon meant to justify the reported £83m being poured (largely from public sources) into that elusive thing called the Cultural Olympiad. At first blush, the Festival looks something like a mash-up of Glastonbury, WOMAD and a large wicker basketful of Barbican-esque offerings. How it will all hang together, or even if it’s meant to, remains to be seen.
The second news item was a brief e-mail from an organisation called Hidden Art. I’d never heard of them, but upon closer inspection Hidden Art appears to be one of those quiet yet busy arts companies that does a lot to keep a variety of artists informed and in funds. Hidden Art actively promotes the commerce end of its artists and has a broad, international spread of income. Tick and tick again in important boxes aligned with the government’s brave new world of the arts.
Yet the e-mail sent to me, and god knows who else, was a desperate plea for cash, because Hidden Art is on the verge of shutting down. It turns out that a big chunk of Hidden Art’s support comes from a London Development Agency (LDA) matching fund that looks likely to disappear. Government match funding to support the arts…haven’t we heard that one recently? Apparently, being asked to make up half its income gap in the space of a few months is a rather tall order for Hidden Art. What a shock.
I imagine sitting here in two years’ time, lolling into the 2012 holiday season. The tree is up; the parties are in full swing. The Olympics will have come and gone: Cate Blanchett, Toni Morrison, Damon Albarn and the other London 2012 Festival headliners will have pocketed their fees and moved on. By then, of course, the austerity hatchets now raining down on the nation’s arts provision will have done their work: we now talk about the hurt, but by then we’ll surely feel it. I wonder whether Hidden Art will have survived. Here’s a holiday wish that they do.
But regardless of Hidden Art’s fate, I also wonder how many other ‘hidden’ artists – the ones that don’t win Oscars or have massive hype machines at their disposal – will have quietly faded away by the time the Cultural Olympiad is no more than an expensive memory. And with each lost artist and company, I wonder how much more diminished will be the cultural landscape that the 2012 Cultural Olympiad is meant, in theory, to celebrate.