Proms vs. Sunderland


In the latest of responses to the controversial remarks made by UK arts minister Margaret Hodge over the lack of cultural diversity and yet high levels of subsidy of the BBC Proms, Germaine Greer in The Guardian yesterday complained:

… the football supporter willing to beggar himself to pay for his season ticket is forced also to support a bloated opera house that generates second-rate product in return for massive government subsidy as well as huge amounts of corporate support. When it comes to arts subsidies, Hodge would do well to consider that London gluttonises at the expense of provincial Britain. (The same is not true of football.) If what the government wants is to bring people together, a usable and affordable rail system would be more effective than Hodge’s ill-considered attempt to guilt-trip the BBC into buggering up the Proms.

Greer’s attempt to define ‘culture’ in the widest sense possible so as to argue against arts subsidy falls pretty flat, as does her assertion that ‘There are so few black people at the Proms because they would rather be somewhere else.’ Candace Knight’s piece ‘All White on the Night’ on March 5th is a more compelling reflection on the experience of minorities at ‘high culture’ events, including her opinion that:

The exposure of all communities to high-level performance of all kinds is the first step in this cultural cross-pollination – in the manner of the open-air projected performances from Covent Garden. There needs to be an accompanying reintroduction of serious cross-cultural arts participation in schools at all levels, too.

But before this, adjusting the mindset – found at all levels of society – that, save for the educated and privileged few with time and money on their hands, there will be no interest in high culture, must be challenged. When cross-cultural experiences become the norm, the awkward looks will become increasingly a thing of the past, like smallpox or second-hand smoke.

In any event Hodge’s remarks have touched a nerve, evidenced by a steady stream of rebuttals published in letters and more letters to the newspaper; and quick distancing of No. 10 from her statement. Clearly however it would seem that the status of the Proms as a ‘sacred cow’ of British culture has occasioned much of the response, though the views offered by respondents on British cultural diversity and the arts have been interesting.

From an Irish point of view, the role of the arts within a multicultural or intercultural social agenda is still under development. The more recent arrival of substantial immigrant communities to Ireland means this discussion is still emerging, unlike the UK where the opportunity is ripe to address the outcomes of years of multi/inter cultural initiatives. Nevertheless the UK debate is instructive and evaluations of arts/cultural diversity initiatives will hopefully prove a useful source for the development of future Irish policy…