Friday, 26 July 2013

Would you just look at what the Arts Council is doing with our money now...

Two identical envelopes dropped through my door yesterday. One addressed to “Andy Humphrey – Freelance Writer”; one to “The Chairman”. Both of them contained the same thing. A single piece of red card, mocked up with the imprint of a button that said “Push”. On the other side, a cursory blurb announcing “New Work from the Writing Squad – supported by Arts Council England.” And that was it.

Excuse me, but am I missing something here? I don’t completely oppose the idea of unsolicited mail (I have to send it myself, from time to time, when promoting competitions or touting for new business). But when I get unsolicited mail I appreciate it if, at the very least, it makes some effort to tell me WHAT THE HELL IT IS ABOUT. This prime candidate for the recycling bin told me nothing about who the Writing Squad are, or why I should care. It said nothing about what kind of new writing it was promoting – it just gave me a cursory web address as if it was implicit that the answer to all my longings would be there. Nor, and this is the bit that REALLY gets my goat, did it say why on earth this had merited Arts Council funding, when other truly worthy projects that I know of are repeatedly getting turned down.

OK, maybe the sender was presuming a bit of prior knowledge on my part. It’s not inconceivable that maybe I ought to know who the Writing Squad are, or why it matters that they are producing new writing. But if they are trying to tout for new business, oughtn’t they to do me the courtesy of doing a little bit of the work for me? Like sending me a press release, an excerpt of some of this great new writing – or even (and wouldn’t this be marvellous?) an invitation to get involved? But no. There was none of that. Just a bit of gimmicky red card.

No doubt this was the product of some head-in-the-clouds marketing guru’s blue-skies, high-concept, outside-the-box publicity machine. But to me it really just seemed as if the Writing Squad, whoever they are, couldn’t be bothered. They didn’t want to tell me who they are, how great they are, or what they have to offer me. After all, why go to all the hard work of scripting a press release when the Arts Council will give you money to print crappy bits of red card instead?

And so to the question: did the Arts Council know that this is what their money was going to be spent on? And if they did, who on earth had the idea that this was a sensible way to spend taxpayers’ money? Arts Council money, after all, is public money, paid in by British taxpayers – people like me.

I’d like to know how many people across the country this has been sent to. I’ve been sent two, after all – which means two envelopes, two lots of postage costs. Even if they confined their mailing to all the freelance writers and writers’ groups in Yorkshire, at the very least that’s a few hundred quid of their grant spent already. If the damn things have gone nationwide, we’re talking a cost of thousands. Just think what that money could have been spent on. Community arts initiatives – I know of projects in the north-east, designed as outreach to socially excluded groups, which haven’t been able to get any funding in the last few years. Brilliant multi-media shows combining spoken word with music, visual art and storytelling, that can’t go on tour to wider audiences because the Arts Council won’t fund the costs of a tour. Journals forced to close because the grants on which they depend have not been renewed. And what are they giving money to instead? THIS rubbish.

I suppose I should congratulate the Writing Squad. If they’ve done nothing else, they’ve made me talk about them, and apparently there’s no such thing as bad publicity. But it’s the Arts Council who should be shamed by this flagrant waste of public money. To deny grants to grassroots arts initiatives in deprived communities is bad enough. But to allow our money to be used for this experiment in third-rate, yuppie ad-agency tosh is, frankly, unforgiveable.

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