Arts Council is paralysed by culture shock

Arts Council is paralysed by culture shock


norman lebrecht

December 17, 2014

They don’t realise how much of the culture will change when a man from the commercial sector takes the helm of our nanny state in miniature.

Click here for a commentary I have written for the Spectator.


Henley is different from any Arts Council boss I have known over four decades. He was born in Tunbridge Wells, studied at the University of Hull and cut his radio teeth in the deadlands of Kent. He has no truck with metropolitan elites or on-message mantras. He will apply a sound business sense to the ACE structure and a shrewd eye for cost/benefit ratios to the priorities for subsidy.



  • Will Duffay says:

    This is pretty poor stuff.

    “It is a nanny state in miniature which, over the past generation, has become an executive arm of government policy in promoting multicultural equivalence, sexual equality, general dumbing down and political correctness at every turn of the wind. Its greatest triumph was the parading of a mechanical elephant through the streets of London at a cost of £1 million.”

    Greatest triumph?? Come on. I know you’re writing for a silly right-wing rag, but that’s rather daft. And what’s wrong with sexual equality? And in what way – given how much the ROH gets – did it promote dumbing down and political correctness? (Incidentally, when a commentator starts banging on about ‘political correctness’ one suspects they don’t really know what they’re talking about.)

    But I think you should be careful what you wish for. You say you welcome the fact that he will “apply a sound business sense to the ACE structure and a shrewd eye for cost/benefit ratios to the priorities for subsidy”. Well unfortunately that is likely to be incompatible with your other hope for him, that he will ‘support the advancement of the arts’. After all, if this man is from Classic FM then that doesn’t bode well for advancing anything other than bland commercial crossover. Arts advancement cannot work when cost/benefit is the guiding principle, unless you define ‘benefit’ in the sort of loose social terms which doubtless don’t wash in a hard-nose commercial environment. So that means regional arts will be pushed aside, small presses go out of business, and the big commercial organisations will be prioritised (and yet forced to cut costs further). Do you really believe he will support the financially unviable small groups in forgotten corners of the country where there are no other arts?

    “If the audience tell him they don’t like squally voices, singing gets pushed back to the witching hours.” And that’s a good thing? That’s something that the ACE should welcome? And finally, you describe one of his main attributes as “He loves classical music”. And when Davey was describe as loving classical music there was snorting…

    But you and I can agree about one thing: if this means orchestras and opera companies no longer have to jump through widening participation hoops to get funding – and thus make up for the failings of education – then that will be a good thing.

    • Tim says:

      “…promoting multicultural equivalence, sexual equality, general dumbing down and political correctness at every turn of the wind.”

      Is NL seriously putting sexual equality in the same negative category as ‘general dumbing down’. Astonishing. It’s one thing to push the buttons of Spectator readers but quite another to imply that equality and respect for others is a bad thing.

    • Halldor says:

      Thing is, Henley’s “love of classical music” and engagement with the non-metropolitan arts world is demonstrable. Wasn’t he a member of the RLPO’s board? He certainly wrote a very decent history of the orchestra, and has been a very active advocate for its work. His major 2012 report into national music education was an extremely impressive, thoughtful and influential piece of work.

      It’s too early to judge how he’ll handle the ACE, but merely dismissing him with a snobbish dig at Classic FM (which, as it happens, under Henley’s leadership has provided significant support to at least 16 regional classical music organisations a long way from London) simply won’t do.

  • David Pickett says:

    I am confused… “Sexual equality” is reckoned to be a bad thing in the UK, but considered essential when it comes to the Vienna Philharmonic?

  • Milka says:

    Mr. Pickett should understand it’s not
    common sense that runs the world.
    Everything is up for grabs and all decisions are based on whose ox is being gored.

  • Alexander Hall says:

    Now that we have been shot of the no-hopers, hangers-on and politically well connected at the Arts Council, is it too much to hope that we can engineer Jude Kelly’s replacement at the Southbank Centre? She has almost single-handedly brought about a downward spiral there so that now the first thought that comes into your head is not “classical music” but, as one other contributor memorably stated in these columns, “a collection of restaurants and eateries with attached musical facility”. The Royal Festival Hall is currently no better than a doss house.