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13.2.04

Elitism and the Arts

After all the complaining I have been doing lately about the subject of money and creating a cultural life, this article (Lottery cash 'subsidises arts for rich', February 13) by David Hencke in The Guardian gave me some new fat on which to chew. I don't know much about the background of the story, but it concerns how profits from the British lottery system are spent:

The upper and middle classes are enjoying a night out at the opera, theatre and ballet in new modern facilities, courtesy of the national lottery, at the expense of the working class, a report by MPs finds today. It attacks Arts Council England for wasting lottery and taxpayers' money to bail out venues such as the Royal Opera House and Sadler's Wells in London, and for not putting enough cash into working-class areas or attracting more diverse groups to theatres.

The report from the Commons public accounts committee criticises the Arts Council for being slow to provide figures which proved that the 15 biggest projects were mainly benefiting the better-off. It found that in only one city in England—Stoke-on-Trent—do audiences accurately reflect those who buy lottery tickets. In London, 70% of lottery cash distributed to the arts went to high-profile arts projects.
Of course, it is difficult not to agree that a lottery is a stealth tax on the poor, but I had never really considered trying to make sure that profits from a lottery somehow matched the interests of the people who buy most of the tickets. I would like those profits to go to symphonies, museums, Artotheks, and so on: should they really be supporting NASCAR races and the next reality TV show instead?

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