Nick Ahad: The argument for art being publicly funded and available to all

Clickbait: something ‘published’ on the internet of a sensational or provocative nature, whose main purpose is to attract attention and draw visitors to a particular web page.

Bravo Douglas Mcpherson for writing the most “clickbaity” piece about the arts I’ve seen in months. McPherson’s piece was published on the Daily Telegraph’s website last week with the headline: A critic’s plea: stop all arts funding now.

Yes, McPherson really was calling for an end to funding for the arts. His argument was based on the fact that “Looking back, I can’t think of one funded show that was any good”. The Telegraph calls McPherson in his opinion piece a “theatre critic” and out of professional respect I shouldn’t really take that title away.

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Although it would appear it is a little bit of a stretch – he is a theatre critic in much that same way I am a cricket correspondent. My work has appeared on the sports pages and I have written about cricket, but I’m no Chris Waters. I’m not even close.

Similarly, McPherson has reviewed theatre. In the internet furore following his piece, the editor of trade newspaper The Stage said on Twitter that Mcpherson “Reviews circus for us semi-regularly, normally commercial 
big top stuff”.

The wonderful thing about attacks like this on the arts world is that you are attacking a body of people whose job is to be creative. So the responses were typically creative and amusing. Leeds theatre director Alan Lane suggested on Twitter that The Stage had been playing an immense, 20-year-long practical joke on McPherson by having not sent him to a decent show in two decades and online magazine Exeunt published a very funny blog imagining the conversation between the editor of the Daily Telegraph and a commissioning editor which led to McPherson being given the assignment.

There was, of course, a more serious side to the dangerous attitude McPherson displayed. When arts funding cuts are a very real thing and someone who ought to be an ally is calling for a reduction in funding then the argument needs to be put forward strongly against it.

It’s a week old now and those strong arguments have been made. So I will simply add: if you’ve ever seen any piece of theatre and enjoyed it, you believe in publicly funding theatre. The end. All shows are the result of funding – whether it’s a small piece of work benefitting directly from funding, or a major commercial hit where the people creating it had their early work supported by funding. If you believe in cutting theatre funding, you believe in killing theatre. You want to live in a world without theatre. The civilised in our society believe in funding the arts and making them available to everyone. Only the deliberately ignorant or boringly provocative would have a problem with that.