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The Lebrecht Weekly


Visit every week to read Norman Lebrecht's latest column. [Index]

Don't put more fans on boards

By Norman Lebrecht / January 30, 2008

Last month a fresh young British Culture Secretary, James Purnell, announced that what the arts really need is to have artists on governing boards, as proposed by the McMaster Report. Last weekend an even fresher young Culture Secretary, Andy Burnham, called for fans to be appointed to boards. 'Those who invest passion, energy and commitment in an organisation, whether that's their football club or local museum, should help run it,’ he declared.

The fact is, they do already. I can’t remember a time when the Royal Opera House did not have a dancer and a composer in the boardroom – presently Kenneth Tharp and Judith Weir. The South Bank had, until recently, the composers Sir Harrison Birtwistle and Robert Saxton. The National Theatre has the writers Philip Pullman, Nicholas Wright on the main board and a host of actors as associates.

As for empowering fans, every arts institution packs its board with successful men and women who, as little boys and girls, had their eyes, ears and minds opened by a visit to Sadlers Wells, the Horniman Museum or the Young Vic and who maintain as fierce an allegiance to the ensemble as any Spurs fan does to the white cockerel.

The problem is not a lack of artists and fans on arts boards as how much say they get in governance. In the case of artists, very little. I am forever being rung by creative souls who are about to resign from arts boards that treat them as window dressing.

As for fans, if they are wealthy they get heard, and if they are not they can hardly call the Culture Secretary to back them up. On the whole, fans make rotten governors, ruling more with their hearts than their heads. No small part of the escalating decline of English National Opera is down to the wilful myopia of lifelong fans on the board. Both Purnell and Burnham have shown good intentions, but they need to get a grip on grim reality.

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Visit every week to read Norman Lebrecht's latest column. [Index]



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