The Department of Culture recently published a White Paper, the first from that department since Jennie Lee’s in 1965, and apparently only its second ever. This chic pamphlet, in truth more PR exercise than policy document, prominently contains that new-age mantra, “access must be increased for those from disadvantaged backgrounds”. The Arts Council also write this sort of optimistic guff, and they don’t mean it either. They only mean it if the ‘disadvantaged’ are prepared to like what the Arts Council want them to like. God forbid that the ‘disadvantaged’ should actually express preferences of their own. And this must echoes its 1965 predecessor – they were on message then too: “The best must be made more widely available.” Imperative or not, nothing happened. The disadvantaged, and presumably they mean anyone who doesn’t visit museums, weren’t seduced by free admission then and they won’t be today, or tomorrow.
If contemporary art fanatics had their way they’d make gallery attendance compulsory, requiring a form of mass re-education: “You will watch this interminable video by our favourite and extremely challenging blurry filmmaker from Kazakhstan … who we got plastered with three nights running at the Gwangdong Biennale.”
Access to museums already being free, how might the disadvantaged be forced into submission? Two possible answers suggest themselves. You could round up pasty-faced skulkers on a sink estate, deposit them outside a museum and have the director and his staff fire kalashnikovs round their feet until they flee into the galleries. Alternatively, you could exhibit the sort of stuff which might appeal to these disadvantaged folk. A display of assault rifles, stillettos and machetes perhaps, or violent video games and snuff movies, or panoramic tellies with full Sky Sports and pornography packages. You might scatter burger boxes, skunk butts, crisp bags and beer tins under the pictures in order to make everyone feel at home. And why not offer them a couple of free ten-pound bets? That seems to work.
Curiously, there’s no word in the White Paper about the ‘advantaged’ who don’t visit museums. This includes most aristocrats. They’re also thick, inbred, ill-mannered, drug-crazed and unemployable. And do tell me Squire Vaizey – while I’ve got you on – am I disadvantaged because I’d rather have my teeth pulled by Hogarth’s dentist than sit through an opera? Give me Buddy Holly any day than some caterwauling eyetie. And I’d rather divebomb naked with my mouth open into a slurry pit than sit through a ballet or a ‘modern dance’, whatever that is. Give me a Sergio/Yaya one-two every time. No, let me go a-disadvantaging myself cabbing Deltics at Barrow Hill, or trudging across Rivvie Pike, or tending the world’s most expensive courgettes, or watching whimbrels where they’re not supposed to be, or just having a few pints in the Cheshire Cheese (again). Rather any of these pastimes than visit a palace of bogus crap like Tate Modern. Am I disadvantaged? Are you talking to me? Well are you talking to me?
This White Paper has the self-congratulatory, de-haut-en-bas tone associated with all Arts Council literature, which, suspiciously, this document closely resembles in appearance. Every page tells its own tinted porky-pie diagram and the most obsequious political correctness oozes like dripping from every letter. It has also decided, again like the Arts Council in its own PR, what the outcomes will be even before policies have been implemented: “They will be inspired by their experiences and will be encouraged to inspire others.” Talk about the Gestapo: “You vill be spired-in! Or you vill be shot!”
Will this White Paper alter the social demographic of museum attendance which has remained static for decades? Not a hope.
Squire, I’ve been in more museums than you’ve had hot dinners and, yes, I am still seriously disadvantaged. Throughout my entire adult life I’ve been cheated by State Art’s monopoly force-feeding me a diet of conceptual and minimal trash of no discernible merit. The only thing I’ve been seriously disadvantaged by is State Art’s prejudice against the sort of work which – for all my peasant upbringing and scummy tastes – I’ve always preferred to look at.