Mark Ravenhill – arts sector needs a ‘plan B’

Mark Ravenhill and Jo Lobban in Product: World Remix in 2007. Photo: Tristam Kenton
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The arts sector needs to create a “plan B” in case public funding is removed completely in the future, playwright Mark Ravenhill has warned.

Speaking at the launch of this year’s Edinburgh Festival Fringe, Ravenhill asked fellow theatre-makers to consider whether the arts would become “safer and duller” or if they would be “more able to ask the impossible questions” if their public subsidy was removed.

He said: “I think we need to have a Plan B. What if the public funding of the arts, which has earned itself an unassailable position in some other countries, was a passing moment in British life?”

“So it's at least worth thinking: "no public money"…Maybe the artist free of any relationship with any public funding body is freest of all?” he added.

Ravenhill claimed that the sector has been sending out a confusing message over the past 20 years.

He said the industry has been offering audiences both luxury evenings in the company of wealthy donors and sponsors, while also doing outreach and education work.

“So we're the best friends of the super-rich and the most disadvantaged at the same time? That's a confusing message and the public has been smelling a rat. If the arts are for something, who are they for? And what are they doing for them?” said Ravenhill.

He said that if the sector “doesn’t do something pretty brave” then it will “be by default for the super-rich”.

“In a society which has reached such a wipe gap between the rich and the poor as ours – as wide a gap as almost a century ago – then the artist can't, I suggest, be for everyone and if we don't do something pretty brave then we will be by default for the super-rich,” he said.

The playwright also warned against arts organisations acting like the business industry.

He said that the corporate sector should learn from the cultural one, which uses its own vocabulary.

“You don't need to be more like those in the corporate sector. They need to be more like you: your inventiveness, your imagination, your ability to co-operate, to promote yourselves, to genuinely engage with the people who come to see your show,” said Ravenhill.