Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Big Daft Day Out

The Arts Council brings together all the members of its family every so often (the last time it did so was 2 years ago in Birmingham) for a ‘Big Day Out’. The sub-Wallace and Gromit tone of the title gives a major clue to the patronizing nature of the event and the quality of the ‘humour’ likely to pepper the pointless speeches.

Brighton was this year’s setting – the Brighton Dome, in fact. Formerly a royal garage, the Dome played host once more to a right royal waste of public money. 759 Arts Council staff got together to be thanked for all their hard work and to be told in the most abstract terms what the next two years had in store.

The Chair relished the sound of his own voice and made a series of ‘jokes’ – including an imitation of young Mr Grace from ‘Are you Being Served?’: ‘You’ve all done very well’. He certainly wasn’t knighted for services to comedy.

Then came the Chief Executive with his repertoire of Blairlike hesitations and his ability to seemingly strut without stirring from the podium. His speech had an inclusive preamble in which he reached out to the staff – at times literally – to acclaim all their hard work. Certain egos, however, are irrepressible. Soon ‘we’ gave way to ‘I’ and it was time to install matchsticks in the eyes as we were treated to ‘my vision’. Like Blair, he is selflessly setting a natural limit to his brilliant reign. He reminisced and took us all back to the bad old days of 1998 when he bravely took over the sleeping giant of the Arts Council and breathed new life into it. He then shared his difficult (but brave) decision to leave in 2008 after a momentous decade at the helm.

There can be few things more galling and depressing than having to wear for an entire day a gaudy name badge advertising the true owner of your soul.

One of those few more galling and depressing things is being asked to participate in a morning singing workshop. A scruffy, posh musician with wild, posh hair took the stage with his singing assistant (she had the incensing brio of a children’s TV presenter). They had put their unkempt heads together to compose a song to be sung in a round by the three sections of the auditorium. It was a ‘funny’ composition about the arts funding system and Tony Blair.

We were asked to stand to sing. I stood in silence. My neighbours might just have picked up the sound of my piss boiling with rage. I was surrounded by half-hearted singing – the kind of singing you hear at weddings by self-conscious non-believers. This exercise captured the spirit of the day – patronizing, wasteful and ultimately pointless.

Of course, I look forward with relish to the next ‘Big Day Out’.