The Countess of Albemar
Over half a century ago, the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation  asked some fancy English people to help it figure out a policy for supporting the arts in Great Britain, much as the Oregon Community Foundation is now formulating policy on the use of the $150 million recently given by the Fred W. Fields estates in support of the arts and education.  The following report from 1959 is illuminating for many reasons, not the least of which is its parallels with arguments for arts funding that are still alive today. The full report follows, but let me jump to the conclusion for those readers with short attention spans:

What is lacking, and still seems to be lacking, notwithstanding the significant advances made in recent years or months is adequate support or patronage. Even today, far too few people seem to recognize the place which the arts should play in the life of the nation as a whole, or if they recognise it, show a marked reluctance to meet the cost.  If this should be thought too harsh a general judgement, let us say rather that the arrangements for support of the arts seem to us rather scrappy and patchy - some things are well done: others almost wholly neglected. The synoptic eye does not seem to have been at work: or if it has, its vision has not yet stimulated enough action from the nerve centres of the brain."

The full report follows, with highlights added by me.


The Board of Administration of the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation asked Lord Bridges, the Countess of Albemarle, Mr. Noel Annan, and Sir George Barnes to review the needs of the arts in Britain so that the Foundation might formulate a policy for their support.


The reasons why the arts should be fostered may seem so obvious that there is little to be gained by discussing them. But to leave unsaid the basic assumptions often leads to misunderstandings.

Put very briefly, the arts represent much of the finest achievements of the human spirit in all ages. Enjoyment of the arts is not confined to those who have themselves outstanding artistic gifts; it is something which in varying degrees brings insight, delight and pleasure to countless men and women.

We believe that this latent power of enjoyment is far more widespread than are the opportunities of awakening it, and that when awakened it can open channels of communication between individuals and groups who share few intellectual or social sympathies and who are unsuspecting of the powers which they possess. It is something which, if left dormant, leads to impoverishment of human nature. Charles Darwin put the point well in his autobiography. Speaking of the time when he had lost his powers of appreciating poetry, pictures and music he wrote:

“The loss of these tastes is a loss of happiness, and may possibly be injurious to the intellect, and more probably to the moral character, by enfeebling the emotional part of our nature.'”

Through the arts people acquire some sense of the past and of the heritage of their own and other nations. The arts can also awaken people to the beauty and the infinite variety of life. In learning to love art men and women not only sharpen their emotions and relate them to intelligence, but they learn to discriminate between different pleasures and to prefer what is of lasting value to what is fugitive. Enjoyment of the arts is something which our civilisation should make available to all who are capable of it.

Today this reasoning has greater force than ever before. For the trend of our social conditions means that a far greater proportion of the people of this country will, in years to come, have leisure and the means to enjoy the arts. Moreover as education and knowledge become more scientific and technical, it is even more important to encourage delight in poetry, painting, drama and music. For the reception of facts alone, without the feeling which is necessary for their due realisation, will lead to public indifference. It is art which can bring facts to life and make them real in our imagination.

Opinions may differ about the proportion of the population of any country which is capable of enjoying the highest forms of art. But few will dispute that there are marked differences in the prestige and degree of support accorded to the arts in various countries. These differences depend in part on national tradition and in part on the manner and extent of the patronage exercised in the past. Thus the prestige which the arts enjoy in France is bound up with the part that they played in the 17th and 18th centuries, when France was mistress of Europe and when her culture dominated civilized society. In Germany artistic activity is widespread, partly because each court fostered it in the days before the unification of the country, and today each provincial city has behind it a long tradition of princely or aristocratic patronage. The same is true of the cities which were the capitals of the Italian states from the days of the renaissance onwards. Again, in Italy opera is a popular art, and the agelong pilgrimage of travellers to admire the buildings and the pictures in her towns persuades people that art is important.

Traditions such as these are not nearly so strong in this country. In the provinces they are often conspicuously weak and patronage has been much less widely exercised. Nevertheless, since in no country and at no time have the arts flourished without patronage, our starting point must be the present methods of patronage in this country. It may be of help if we state briefly at the outset the main directions in which our enquiry has led us to think that present methods do not achieve all that should be done, and that further help is needed by the arts.

The first is that far greater support is needed for the arts than in the past. Nor is this a temporary need. Once high standards of artistic creation and performance have been established, an increasing sum is required to maintain these new standards. This means that over the years public authorities will have to find more money for the arts. The second is that far more needs to be done today to render the arts accessible, particularly in the provinces. The third point is that there should be more scope for experiment in order to invigorate the arts. The fourth point is that we think that more should be done to foster appreciation of the arts among the young. The introduction of music and drawing into primary schools has been of the highest importance. But in grammar and secondary modern schools, the practice and appreciation of the arts is apt to be crowded out after the age of 14; while little incentive or encouragement is given to boys and girls after leaving school to develop whatever interest in the arts they have acquired. The best means of doing this is something which would well repay enquiry.


Above all a trust can and should be prepared to back individuals, whether artists or those who follow other callings. It should never forget that artists, and not institutions, create art; and that however desirable it is to foster the growth of a public for the arts by spending its bounty on education or by supporting institutions, that public will evaporate unless its interest in modern art is continually stimulated. And how better can this be done than by encouraging, by its patronage, composers, poets, painters and sculptors? Backing individual artists is a risk, and often a disappointing venture. But the winners justify the process, and if trusts will not back their fancy and be bold and be prepared to face ridicule, how can State patronage, which is accountable to public criticism, be expected to do anything more than play safe?

Another important duty of a trust is to give help which would enable the promoter of, say, a series of concerts or a dramatic production to employ artists who will make the venture outstanding and superlative. By pursuing the highest standards, art flourishes; wheareas dim second-rate ventures drive people away and do more harm than good.

Unlike public bodies, trusts are accountable to themselves only. They give decisions but do not have to give reasons. This gives them a freedom of which they should make the fullest use.

It is, of course, wise for a trust to concentrate its resources on certain broad purposes and to form certain general conclusions as to how those purposes can best be served. In other words a trust is bound to develop a policy, and it is as a help to that end that the suggestions which follow are made. But trustees should never allow themselves to be dominated by that policy. They should not allow themselves to slip into a position in which their decisions are governed by precedents, like most public bodies, and they cease to be free to exercise an unfettered judgment on each case as it is presented to them. A trust must therefore be ready to change its policy at short notice and to back novel and promising schemes outside its normal scope. For we believe that one of the chief aims of a trust must be to seek out and give encouragement to movements which are significant and creative and to support schemes which others may not feel bold enough to support.

A more general, a more humdrum, but nevertheless an equally valid way of stating the general position outlined in these paragraphs would be to say that it is the duty of a trust to encourage and foster new developments or growing points, where there is a reasonable chance that the new development will later on either be self supporting or will attract permanent support whether from public funds or from elsewhere. It will be well advised to help these growing points by grants either of a capital nature or for a fixed term of years.

To say that a trust should encourage new developments does not mean that it should give all its support to newly established organisations. This would be a mistake. It would put too great a premium on mere novelty, and would be wasteful of the wisdom acquired by those organisations which have built up valuable experience in a particular field. Opportunities will arise in which a well established organisation which has outrun its original impetus, or perhaps has lost some of its effectiveness through shortage of funds, can be given a fresh start or encouraged to pursue a promising new line by, for example, a grant for re-equipment, or a grant to tide over a difficult period.

Yet no trust can allow itself to get into the position in which its resources, or a substantial proportion of them, become, as it were, permanently mortgaged to the support of particular institutions or objects. Its support must, therefore, be given to meet particular emergencies or needs, or to provide help over the initial periods of a new scheme after which it will be either self-supporting or will obtain help from other sources.

It is important that money should be given in a way which does not weaken the responsibilities of those who receive it. We are entirely opposed to the practice of giving grants to meet annual deficits, more particularly where grants on this basis are made over a period of years. The results of this course are plainly mischievous. Grants should usually be made for fixed amounts and for fixed periods. The receiving organisations will thus know where they stand and can make their plans accordingly. If they get into debtin the first year, they will have to adjust their plans for later years. If they make a profit, or a larger profit than expected, that is surely something which should be welcome to receiver and giver alike.

One further point. There are, of course, instances in which a grant by a trust to meet quite a small proportion of the sum required for a particular scheme will attract help from others and will make the thing go. Indeed there are many instances in which it would be inappropriate for a particular trust to do more than give a helping hand to a scheme to which others, whether individuals or corporate bodies, could be expected to make larger contributions.

But a trust which goes far in this direction will soon find that it is being milked of a large proportion of its resources without having to its credit any notable or worthwhile achievements. It will have lost its opportunity of doing something which would not otherwise have come to pass. On the whole, we think it is better to aim at giving generous help to a small number of worthwhile objects rather than to spread the butter thinly over a large piece of bread.

Much more needs to be done to persuade people that pictures on walls are as necessary to a house as furniture. It is noticeable that in the New Towns, houses which are furnished with contemporary furniture, fabrics and wallpapers, have bare walls. Here an example could be set by institutions, and (as suggested in paragraph 74 above) universities and colleges could do much by establishing picture-loan libraries so that the coming generations learned to put modern paintings, reproductions and lithographs as well as pin-ups in their rooms.

In putting forward these suggestions we recognise that money alone will not give birth to good art; but it can provide, for those artists who have proved their worth, a respite from debt and from the necessity to spend long hours at other work in order to provide for a family.


The other line of approach is that, even if good theatres are provided, there can be no certainty that they will be used for good plays worthily acted. There are at present about 30 repertory theatres which receive help from the Arts Council and about half as many again which receive no such help at the present time. The standard of performance of these companies varies considerably. Undoubtedly a proportion of them do first-class work and it would be a great pity if their continuance or progress were to be hampered
by financial difficulties.

The chief difficulties which beset these companies are as follows: first the labour and cost of continually putting on new plays after the very short runs usual in repertory: secondly, the balance on which these companies operate is so delicate that one failure may upset their finances for a whole season: thirdly, adventurous programmes of plays do not pay, and this imposes caution on all but the most daring managements: fourthly, television not only reduces audiences but draws the best repertory actors from the provinces to London, because touring or acting in repertory companies is both less lucrative and more obscure than work which can be picked up in the London studios, where they may become known to an audience of millions.

Again if a promising scheme were devised for an experimental theatre, whether in London or in the provinces, it might be thought worthy of support by the Foundation. By an experimental theatre we mean a theatre in which a producer can try out new plays and
playwrights, relying on outside financial support.

It might also be possible to give financial help to a limited number of managements which both need and deserve it. Surprisingly strong stimulus can be given to the theatre simply by helping one brilliant and imaginative producer. Such seasons have an influence on the theatre out of all proportion to the number of people who take part in the productions or even see the plays.


Playwrights. The English theatre is greatly hampered by lack of good playwrights. We do not believe that there are many original and skilled playwrights who cannot get their plays produced on the London stage or elsewhere for lack of interest in new plays by managements. Playwriting is governed by technical considerations hardly less severe than the composition of music; but, whereas musicians study composition in academies, there is no place where the technique of playwriting is studied. The drama department at
Bristol University, however, is doing pioneer work in providing courses on the drama and acquainting students with the problems of the living theatre. It seemed to us that this initiative could well be followed by other universities. Indeed, it is remarkable that many of the present distinguished generation of American playwrights have, at some time, been members of drama departments in American universities. It would obviously be otiose for all universities to establish such departments but one or two would serve as growing points. They should be genuinely concerned with the problems of production and the technique of writing plays and not primarily with the academic study of drama already fully catered for in the language faculties.


One of the surprising omissions in the cultural life of this country is the proper provision for children's theatre, which flourishes in so many parts of the world. There are very few adult professional companies giving dramatic performances which are planned and produced specifically for children, although where they exist they receive support from local education authorities; but for lack of a central body and funds for initiating companies, children's theatre depends on the spasmodic efforts of a few enthusiasts. Another inhibiting factor on its development is the lack of playwrights who understand the mind and reactions of the child today. Any private patron would find a comparatively untouched field for pioneering experiments both in playwriting and play production for children.


If this country was failing to produce artists of the highest quality, the outlook for the arts would be gloomy indeed. But that is not so. British painters, musicians, composers, sculptors, ballerinas - to mention only some artists - all these are now held in the highest repute internationally.

What is lacking, and still seems to be lacking, notwithstanding the significant advances made in recent years or months is adequate support or patronage. Even today, far too few people seem to recognize the place which the arts should play in the life of the nation as a whole, or if they recognise it, show a marked reluctance to meet the cost.

If this should be thought too harsh a general judgement, let us say rather that the arrangements for support of the arts seem to us rather scrappy and patchy - some things are well done: others almost wholly neglected. The synoptic eye does not seem to have been at work: or if it has, its vision has not yet stimulated enough
action from the nerve centres of the brain.

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