One of the areas that has been hardest hit by cuts in public funding is the Arts Council. And one of the main victims of Arts Council budget-slashing has been English National Opera.
ENO at the Coliseum may have all sorts of problems, within its own management team, and it has been said to suffer from a "poor business model". But what a tragedy it would be to lose it.
And look at the figures. The entire budget of the Arts Council for England is only £270 million. Under the present government's "austerity" it has been shrunk from a previous £350 million, and eked out with Lottery funding to reduce the Treasury's contribution. And that £270 million has to be shared out between 670 organisations.
Possibly some of them are not terribly worthy - I have not checked out all of the 670 individually - but surely most of them are. And English National Opera must be among those.
Just consider that we pay £55 million per day in contributions to the European Union. The annual budget of the Arts Council is only equal to about five days' contributions to the EU, and the subsidy paid to ENO is less than one day's worth. Much less. It creates jobs, without a doubt. It improves our international relations. And it keeps loafers off the streets and out of the bars. In the 2013/14 financial year ENO was blamed for losing £2.2 million - which would only pay for about one hour's membership of the EU. I would rather spend that money on giving ENO another chance than on MEPs' bogus fact-finding trips to places with sunny climates and luxury hotels.
Why should some art get public funding? Because if it does not, only a tiny percentage of the population can enjoy those intense, extravagant high-art forms, opera and ballet, which are so difficult and expensive to produce. Yes, millions can enjoy them through stereo radio, recordings or TV or, nowadays, by means of live relay into cinemas - all of which should be encouraged - but without the live performances, there would be nothing to record or to relay. Live performance is how artists, singers and dancers build up a career and a reputation. A great capital city is hardly a civilised place without some serious opera, and serious theatre going on. And surely a city the size of London, with millions of inhabitants, needs more than one opera house.
Lenten Meditations: Saturday 25 March
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