The ebullient Darren Henley, chief executive of Arts Council England, has responded to media pressure over forthcoming cuts at English National Opera by telling the company, in effect, to slash or vanish.
His article is extraordinary for its egocentricity and political correctness. Henley, a former head of Classic FM, has spent much of his career bashing the BBC for using public money to steal his potential audience. Now he seems to be accusing London of living of the fat of the regions when it was an Arts Council order that confined ENO to London, forbidding it to travel. Throughout the turmoil of the past 20 years, the ACE’s impatience with ENO has alternated with outright malice. There has been no sympathy for the company or its members. Most of the ENO crisis is of the Arts Council’s making. If any org needs to shrink or die it is the ACE.
Here are Darren’s last two pars:
At the Arts Council we must keep the whole nation’s arts ecology in sight. We are concerned with the quality and relevance of all art forms, and we want everyone in England to benefit from our investment, beyond opera audiences in central London. There are places where local authority funding of arts and culture is being cut savagely and where it’s very difficult to fundraise.
Those who know me understand that I have a personal commitment to classical music of all types, but they also know I will squeeze every ounce of value out of taxpayer’s cash. Let’s worry and care for the talented members of the ENO chorus. But amid the media furore, let’s also remember that cultural institutions across England are facing immense challenges, and the best ones are rising to them.