WHATEVER happened to the once much-discussed Bonfire of the Quangos?
The Cameron-Clegg years saw the getting rid of many of these quasi-autonomous non-governmental organisations, including illustrious bodies such as the Pesticide Residues Committee and the Government Hospitality Advisory Committee on the Purchase of Wines. As of 2020, there were about 300 such bodies still in existence.
One of these is the Arts Council of England (ACE). Over the period 2020-2021 the group’s budget was a cool £690million. With all that cash and a total of 639 full-time employees, it is one of the largest arts patrons in the world.
Yet, in a recent pamphlet entitled Abolish the Arts Council, Alexander Adams (with valuable contributions by David Lee, editor of The Jackdaw) contends that the body has strayed so far from its original mission statement – to promote ‘a greater knowledge, understanding and practice of the fine arts … and in particular to increase the accessibility of the fine arts to the public’ – that it should be axed.
An artist himself, Adams lays out the worrying spread of artivism in the modern world, and ACE’s predictable preoccupation with post-modern dogma.
While keen for ‘diversity’, ACE promotes a uniform intellectual environment bereft of diversity of thought, with certainly no room for anything conservative. Any artist seeking to gain funding for something pro-family or pro-Christianity would have to look elsewhere.
Instead, the ACE is, in Adams’s words, ‘the cultural arm of the Establishment’. Most of those who actually foot the bill for the council – the taxpayers – find themselves utterly unrepresented, or, in some cases, even belittled in the achingly right-on output funded by ACE.
ACE is in favour of racial quotas and placing demographic diversity requirements on funding. Nor is money from the body without its political strings attached. With ACE’s large budget and an even bigger axe to grind, Adams lays out how artists are effectively forced into agreeing with its ideological stipulations lest they endanger their funding.
Naturally, as has become the norm, those who sit atop the pyramid of such publicly-funded bodies are handsomely remunerated. Moreover, the kinds of people who work in organisations such as ACE are overwhelmingly drawn from the same stable, creating a complicated web of personal, professional and financial interests.
Not only is the content of what receives funding a concern – such as a Middlesbrough Institute for Modern Art-hosted exhibition based on the book The ABC of Racist Europe – but also the council’s financial profligacy, with much funding resulting in very little bang for taxpayer buck.
Adams’s work clearly lays out the problem of governments relying on quangos. Intended to remove political interference, as they lie outside the remit of directly elected politicians, they instead get captured by a monocultural elite amid the relentless Gramscian march through the institutions.
Reform of ACE is not viable. The system of patronage, favouritism and political bias that has grown up amid the cosy situation fostered over decades is a weed with deep roots.
Instead, Adams contends, a whole new mode of funding artistic endeavours in the UK must be sought. Instead of recreating the inefficient systems of today – with money dished out from central government and multiple layers of bureaucracy each taking their cut – a more pared-down system must be created, with worthwhile artistic endeavours (ballet, opera, drama) cared for by directly-funded, dedicated bodies.
This would entail reducing government subvention for contemporary culture. But this would be no bad thing, and would sort much of the wheat from the chaff. The worthwhile among the flotsam and jetsam of modern ‘art’ would be able to find its own sponsorship, with donors, local communities and charities playing their part, and the inevitable mass of valueless dross would sink without a trace.
What is alarming about Adams’s well-formulated and insightful critique is not merely that a body such as ACE can stray so far from its original goals, using taxpayer money to pursue divisive political objectives. That is worrying enough.
Yet while reading it, one wonders how many mirror images there are across society, where cosy revolutionaries sit in their taxpayer-funded or subsidised sinecures, producing nothing of value while fomenting resentment against the society that makes their luxurious idleness possible.
In casting this ray of light on the swamp of progressivism, Adams merely underlines how much more work there is to be done.
Abolish the Arts Council, Alexander Adams with David Lee (2022), is available to buy here.