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Culture Matters We need a cultural revolution to roll back the corporate attack on the arts

THE NEOLIBERAL ideology that has dominated our culture for half a century is crumbling to pieces.

The government is desperately trying to patch together support for its reactionary, oppressive policies and, among the chaos, conflicts and injustices of Brexit, Grenfell Tower, gender inequality, and sexual harassment, Arts Council England (ACE), which exists to provide public subsidy to cultural institutions, decides it needs new council members.

So who do you think is appointed by the Tory government in order to defend and promote the imposition of corporate, capitalist values in art and culture? Who might have the relevant qualifications and experience at privatising the arts and preventing the creation and consumption of art from becoming a communal, anti-capitalist and politically liberating force?

Step forward Elisabeth Murdoch, daughter of media mogul Rupert Murdoch and promoter of a global, right-wing, union-busting, tax-avoiding corporate capitalist agenda.

She’s unlikely to face much opposition within ACE to promoting an elitist arts agenda. Historically, it has always been focused on channelling state subsidies for the arts to the well-off, particularly in the London area, where arts funding is 10 to 15 times that of elsewhere.

The kind of expensive arts favoured by the rich and powerful, often precisely because they are badges of elitism, exclusivity and expense, are mostly on offer in the capital. They're heavily subsidised by ACE from public funds from taxpayers and Lottery players in the rest of the country.

It's also unlikely that ACE will change its own elitist culture. It's now chaired by Nicholas Serota, former director of the Tate for an overlong 28 years. On his departure, staff were asked to contribute towards the purchase of a new boat for a man who introduced zero-hours contracts, would not recognise trade unions and privatised some of the Tate’s functions. He's one of the main figures in the arts world facilitating the ongoing corporate capitalist takeover of the arts.

The new Blavatnik Building in Tate Modern, for example, was part-funded by and named after the Ukrainian billionaire Len Blavatnik, Britain's richest man in 2015 and a Trump supporter and donor.

He recently funded a £5 million extension to the V and A — named Blavatnik Hall, what else — and in 2017 helped fund one of the most spectacular but politically biased art exhibitions that the Royal Academy has ever mounted of Russian revolutionary art. It is of course a complete coincidence that Blavatnik made his fortune from the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Last year, he was knighted for his “services to philanthropy.”

There are more intimate and troubling connections. While at the Tate, Serota oversaw the appointment of Ms Murdoch as a Tate trustee from 2008 to 2016 and chair of the Tate Modern advisory council from 2009 to 2016.

During that time, The Freelands Trust, founded and chaired by Ms Murdoch and endowed with the unethical dividends of the Murdoch media empire, gave hundreds of thousands of pounds to the Tate.

Serota’s wife Teresa Gleadowe, who sits on the Freelands Foundation advisory committee runs the Cornubian Arts and Science Trust, which funds the Groundwork arts project in Cornwall. This project is also supported by — guess who? – the Freelands Trust and ACE.

Gleadowe is also chair of Nottingham Contemporary, a company which won this year’s £100,000 Freelands Award, as judged by a selection panel which included – you’ve guessed – Elisabeth Murdoch and Teresa Gleadowe. You couldn’t make it up, could you?

Of course no law has been broken by these nefarious, opaque and potentially corrupt entanglements. But is it any wonder that so many artists, performers and others, including no doubt ACE employees, are unhappy on a scale of everything from unease to outrage?

The Artists Union England, backed by artists, trade unionists and workers in the arts and cultural industries, has called for Murdoch's appointment to be reversed. “This appointment exposes what is becoming an endemic culture of privilege and power within the art world that needs challenging and changing. The message to the Department of Culture Media and Sport and Nicholas Serota is clear. Elisabeth Murdoch is neither qualified nor suitable for such a position.”

For Alice Gale-Feeny, one of the many signatories to the petition against the appointment, Murdoch's shoo-in means that “the art world has lost its sense of authenticity, purpose and agency and instead become just another cog in the machine of capitalism.”

To redress this lamentable situation, we desperately need far more democratic, transparently managed arts and cultural activities, which are truly meaningful, accessible and affordable for everyone, everywhere in the country.

It is part of the social wage and, like health and education and welfare benefits, it is our right. All of us, artists and other cultural workers, leaders of arts institutions and the general public, need to join in the cultural struggle and create an anti-capitalist cultural revolution.

This is a shorter version of an article on the Culture Matters website, culturematters.org.uk

 

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