Edition number 83; dateline 10 June 2014
Is it all over for opera?
The general manager of one of the world’s most celebrated opera houses has claimed that opera is dying, along with the ageing audiences that fill the seats. Peter Gelb of the Metropolitan in New York is currently embroiled in negotiations with 16 unions to prevent industrial action scheduled to begin at the end of July. However, Gelb also points to static box office receipts, a drop in seat occupancy to 80% and rising costs as evidence of the fragile state of the art form. Although the Met pioneered the live broadcast of performances to cinema audience, Gelb suggests that such innovation has only served to extend the lifespan of the opera-goer. This battle is an existential one that has to be won,” he said. “If we’re not able to create a more sustainable business model now, we know we will face a bankruptcy situation in the next two or three years.” Gelb’s view is at odds with that of Alex Beard, the chief executive of the Royal Opera, who says that the Met’s experience is not replicated in London. “Opera is on a roll,” he said. “As long as love, death, longing and despair are part of the life experience, and people want to hear great stories told through music, opera has a vibrant future.”
UKActive partnership provokes unhealthy debate
Criticism of the decision of UKActive to take part in a £20 million promotional campaign for Coca Cola Zero has prompted UKActive’s chief executive, David Stalker, to offer a detailed defence of his organisation’s position. In a blog post on the UKActive website headed ‘Awkward marriage or golden opportunity?’ Stalker concedes that was a difficult decision but that ultimately the opportunity to work with such a wealthy and high-profile brand willing to be involved with physical activity promotion was an offer too golden to decline. “Since day dot [sic], we’ve remained uncompromising in our view of the role of the importance of a healthy balanced lifestyle, in particular through nutrition,” he writes. “Part of our commitment to improving the health of the nation by promoting physical activity includes forming relationships with businesses and brands who share a similar ambition and commitment to prioritising the health of their consumers and encouraging them to lead more active lifestyles. A company like Coca-Cola GB has unique reach to be mobilised in the battle to turn the tide of inactivity.” However, many in the sport, leisure and culture sector have been highly critical of the decision. A number of leisure professionals closely involved with health promotion have told the Leisure Review that any engagement with a brand so clearly associated with the promotion of sugar and health inequalities undermines any relationship between leisure and the health sector. The Coca Cola Zero ParkLives initiative will run over the summer, providing free activities in 70 parks in Newcastle, Birmingham and the London borough of Newham. UKActive will be involved in the monitoring and evaluation of the project, which aims “to help get one million people active by 2020”.
Turning a pedal in memory of a mate
Peter Treadgold, former president of CIWEM and the Leisure Review’s active transport correspondent, is riding the Prudential RideLondon to raise money for the Stroke Association in memory of his great friend and colleague, Nick Reeves, who died after suffering a stroke last year. “The first time we met was when I was on the interview panel for Nick’s appointment as executive director of CIWEM,” Peter said. “W got to know each other through working together and I was always proud to have Nick as a ‘best mate’. The day before Nick was taken ill, we were both with the secretary of state for transport, lobbying alongside other environmental institutions for increased government commitment to active transport, so it seems fitting that to be using active transport as a means to raise money for the Stroke Association in Nick’s memory.” Peter will be covering the 100 miles of the RideLondon event on 10 August and donations can be made via Peter’s JustGiving page or by contacting Peter directly via email.
Culture secretary returns home for opening night
Sajid Javid made his first speech as culture secretary in his home town of Bristol and took accessibility of the arts sector as his theme. Speaking at the St George’s arts centre a few miles from where he grew up, he told his audience, “I want you to make what you do accessible to everyone. That doesn’t mean striving for popularity and aiming for the lowest common denominator. It means ensuring that everyone in the UK has the opportunity to engage with our artists and actors, our history and heritage. It means giving everyone a chance to develop their own cultural tastes.” He urged the arts sector to “never forget that every penny of taxpayer support and lottery cash that goes to culture has been provided by hard-working people from every community in the UK” but that a lot of people still feel excluded from engaging in the arts. He was also critical of a situation in which anyone wanting a career in the arts is likely to have to be from a wealthy background. “Entry-level positions inevitably come with low pay or sometimes no pay, effectively barring access if you don’t have the ‘bank of mum and dad’ to fall back on,” he said. “For a sector that receives so much public subsidy, that’s unacceptable.” Javid urged the arts sector to pay particular attention to access to the arts for people from black and minority ethnic backgrounds. “BME taxpayers help support culture in just the same way as white taxpayers, but they’re much less likely to attend a performance or visit a gallery,” he said. “And while 14 per cent of the UK’s population is non-white, BME applicants were awarded just 5.5 per cent of Grants for the Arts awards last year. Why is this? Are BME people simply less artistic, less talented? Of course not. If there’s a lack of BME artists applying for funding we have to ask ourselves why. Are there enough visible role models? Are we developing talent in the right way? Are cultural institutions making enough of an effort to reach out to ethnic minority communities and say ‘This is for you, too’?”
• The culture secretary’s speech is available online via www.gov.uk
Labour’s cultural policy gets an outing
Following the culture secretary’s plea for access to the arts, Labour’s culture shadow, Harriet Harman, has called for publicly funded arts organisations to demonstrate that they are working effectively to extend their reach beyond a white, middle-class urban elite. Central to her message was a drive to connect school children with the arts and ensure that they remain connected. Ofsted, she suggested, should only be able to rate a school as outstanding if they provide an outstanding arts education.
Southbank grant for repairs
The Southbank Centre in London is to receive £16.7 million from the Arts Council to assist with urgent repairs to the Hayward Gallery, the Queen Elizabeth Hall and the Purcell Room. The grant is part of a total of £24 million for planned works, the rest of which will be raised, according to the Southbank, from “trusts, philanthropists and audiences”.
Petrol, promises and protests in south Wales
The dilemma of economic development in environmentally sensitive areas is being played out on the edge of the Brecon Beacons national park in south Wales with plans for a motorsport facility. Proponents have presented the benefits of a £280 million Circuit of Wales that would bring thousands of jobs (the developers have reckoned on 6,000) to Blaenau Gwent, an area in which any employment opportunities are at a premium. Protesters are pointing to the irrevocable change to 830 acres of hills, the environmental impact and the loss of common land rights that have existed for centuries. The Open Spaces Society has called for the project to be halted but the local authority and the Welsh government have been supportive of the scheme.
Paying your dues in the arts
A new campaign titled Paying Artists has been launched with the help of research that shows 70% of contemporary visual artists involved in publicly funded exhibitions over the last three years received no fee. Susan Jones, director of a-n, an artists’ membership organisation that represents 18,000 artists, said that the practice of not paying artists had become deeply entrenched.
• Find the research at www.a-n.co.uk/publications
Bison release “a sign of hope”
Bison have been reintroduced to the forests of Romania as part of a continuing conservation project that began in the 1950s. Seventeen European bison have been released and the charity leading the project, Rewilding Europe, hopes that with regular annual reintroductions there will eventually be some 500 bison in the Romanian mountains. Rewilding Europe’s managing director, Frans Schepers, explained that bringing animals back into the landscape has symbolic value. “Releasing animals, giving them space, is a sign of hope, he said. “It shows that if we choose we can help wildlife come back.” The last European bison was killed in 1927 in Poland but since the reintroduction programme began they now number some 3,200 in the wild. Other animals to benefit from similar schemes include lynx, beavers and eagles, while in the USA the reintroduction of wolves to Yellowstone in 1995 has had a significant positive effect on habitats and diversity within the park. Rewilding Europe expects the bison to have a similar impact in Romania and beyond.
Ousley questions commitment on discrimination
Senior figures in professional football are not convinced that the game needs to address issues of discrimination, according to Lord Ousley of the Kick It Out campaign. Speaking while the chief executive of the Premier League, Richard Scudamore, was waiting to face a committee to explain sexist emails, Ousley claimed that any progress on the introduction and development of effective policy on discrimination was slow. “More often than not there is little or no interest whatsoever in the boardrooms or the senior management teams for any high-profile equality and diversity activity,” he said. “In fact many leaders in football hold the view that there is no longer a race or discrimination problem and it is time for Kick It Out to pack its bags and move on.”
LGA warns of tipping point for public services
A survey of local authorities by the Local Government Association shows that the majority of councils have run out of cost-cutting options. Cuts in frontline public services will now be the only option for many authorities looking to finalise budgets for 2015/16. The report, Under Pressure, shows three out of five councils have no further savings to be found with only one in five confident that required budget cuts can be met by efficiencies; two out five are considering higher charges for discretionary services, including leisure. LGA vice-chairman, Gerald Vernon-Jackson, said, “With another £20 billion worth of savings to be found, we’re approaching a tipping point where options are fast running out. The next two years will be the toughest yet for those who use and rely upon the popular local services councils provide.”
• Under Pressure is available from the LGA website at www.local.gov.uk/publications
Cuts leave open window to Caravaggio
Funding issues are affecting cultural venues across Europe and recently the Borghese Gallery in Rome, home to one of the finest collections of works by Caravaggio, Titian, Raphael and Rubens, has revealed that one part of the museum has had no temperature control for several months. As temperatures rise in Rome, the museum’s only climate-control facility is to open the windows. The head of Rome’s museums, Daniela Porro, was quoted as saying, “An expert has studied the problem and work is due to start tomorrow.”
Sam makes history in US professional sport
After several months of speculation and waiting, Michael Sam has become the first openly gay player in the US National Football League. Having come out in February in advance of the draft via which teams select players from the colleges, Sam was the 249th pick of the 256 players available. Although disappointed that he had to wait so long to be drafted given his high-profile achievements in the college game, Sam was sanguine. “I knew I was going to get picked somewhere,” he said. “Every team that passed me, I was thinking how I’m going to sack their quarterback.” Sam is second openly gay player within American sport’s big four of football, baseball, basketball and ice hockey; Jason Collins, who plays in the NBA for the Brooklyn Nets, became the first openly gay player in the main sports when he came out last year.
News in brief in briefAMA Research has published its latest health and fitness market report, Focus on Clubs and Equipment - UK 2014-2018 Analysis, which the current market and considers future prospects. HB Canoe and Kayak have launched a new range of kayaks aimed at anglers, the Fishing Range, which they hope will encourage people to “take a bite out of a new sport”. The Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB) is celebrating a gold medal and the award for best fresh garden at the RHS Chelsea flower show. The Barbican and workspace innovators the Trampery are creating a new workspace in a Victorian warehouse by the River Lea for emerging talent in the arts and technology called Fish Island Labs. Health and safety management specialist Right Directions is to coordinate the ASA’s learn to swim accreditation scheme for facilities offering swim schools. APSE will be hosting a seminar titled The New Municipal Entrepreneurs at Leeds Civic Hall on Friday 11 July. APSE has also produced a self-assessment toolkit to help health and wellbeing boards navigate their way through complex issues and find solutions that suit local circumstances, titled Ensuring Health and Wellbeing: a Self-assessment Tool for Health and Wellbeing Boards. SALTEX will be taking place at Royal Windsor Racecourse 2-4 September and will again incorporate PlayFair, the UK’s largest annual trade event for all those involved in the procurement and maintenance of children's play equipment and safety surfacing.
News in brief
Staccato reports from the cultural typeface