Under Mr Blair, the arts were taken all too seriously. The results have been dismaying. Artistic freedom has been compromised and the central body for the state funding of the arts, Arts Council England (ACE), the main successor of Maynard Keynes's post-war Arts Council of Great Britain, is in crisis, having lost the confidence of many of those it was designed to assist. In 2009, a straw poll among some key arts figures found the majority in favour of scrapping the Arts Council altogether and a minority in favour of radical surgery. No one felt it could remain as it was.
The arts world's disillusion is justified. The council is no longer the organisation it once was. Spending too much on administration, stripped of arts expertise and politically correct to a fault, it has been reformed to the point where it no longer works. It is time to abolish it altogether at national level.
Of course, the past 12 years have seen both artistic achievement and some exciting new galleries and concert halls, including the New Art Gallery Walsall and the Sage Gateshead. But the "golden age" has involved utter disasters at vast expense: the £15 million National Centre for Popular Music in Sheffield — insolvent within seven months of opening — and the £60 million "pink elephant" of Will Alsop's Public Gallery in West Bromwich, finally cut loose by the Arts Council earlier this year and described by Shadow Arts Minister Ed Vaizey as "the biggest arts scandal for decades".
Moreover, part of the myth of Blair's artistic golden age — that state funding was greatly increased under his aegis — is simply that: myth. John Major's contribution in creating the National Lottery was far more significant. Arts funding almost doubled between the financial years 1994-1995 and 1995-1996, thanks to boosted National Lottery income. Its level then remained roughly constant. Between 1996-1997 and 2006-2007, total Arts Council income from both the Lottery and direct state funding rose by just 2.6 per cent, from £575 million to £590 million.
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