Attempts by Liz Forgan, chair of Arts Council England, to defend her veto of the Mayor of London’s candidate are sounding more plaintive than her usual robust self. In a letter printed yesterday in the Guardian, whose ownership Trust she chairs, Dame Liz bleated that she was trying protect the ACE from political interference and to promote the cause of candidates who are more qualified than the Mayor’s.
Hmmm… let’s examine those two points. The ACE is yoked by the present government to a Department of Culture that controls all major decisons. The appointment of Liz as chair was a token of her Labour credentials. There is nothing non-political about the ACE any more.
And who are the other candidates she prefers? Tim Marlow is an art curator and presenter with no experience of the performing arts where the ACE spends its buggest bucks. Patrick McKenna is founder of Ingenious, an arts and media investment company whose involvement in the public-funded ACE would raise serious questions of conflict.
And then there is Nicholas Snowman, a former Arts Council official who ran London’s South Bank Centre for 12 years, turning into the biggest guzzler of public funds with the least to show for its spend. Nicholas and I go back a long way and I would be the last to deny his many merits as an arts administrator. London, however, is his weakest link and the Arts Council his Achilles Heel. He would have made an appalling appointment, exposing both himself and the ACE to accusations of being an insider’s club.
None of these considrations crossed the mind of Dame Liz when, in a burst of political bile, she vetoed Veronica Wadley as the ACE’s member for London. Veronica, my erstwhile editor and close associate, has no history in the arts. What she offers is a blazing commitment, demonstrated by doubling the arts coverage in her newspaper and campaigning for every arts cause. More than any other editor in my time, she made the arts central to editorial policy.
She would have brought – and will eventually bring – great initiative and fresh ideas to her public role. It’s a pity Dame Liz could not see that. It cheapens her greatly and fatally weakens the ACE.