the world beyond four walls


Publicly funded arts bolster the UK economy, study finds

By Mark Brown/The Guardian/13th July 2015

Public spending on the arts brings significant growth to the commercial creative industries, which in turn boosts the wider UK economy, a report backed by business leaders argues.

The Creative Industries Federation published a report on Monday setting out in detail the importance of public investment in the arts, whether that is by national government or local authorities.

John Kampfner, the chief executive of the federation, said spending public money on the arts was crucial, “not just for the good of society, but to nurture some of the best talent for our creative industries”.

He added: “There is nothing ‘nice to have’ about the arts and the creative industries, there is nothing tangential, nothing ‘soft’. They are central to our economy, our public life and our nation’s health.”

The report was published alongside one commissioned by Arts Council England analysing in fine detail the macroeconomic contribution arts and culture make to the national economy. Read More


The most unsayable truth: museums are not the NHS – they should charge us

By Jonathan Jones/The Guardian/23rd July 2015

It may be time for museums in Britain to begin charging for entry. I do not say this lightly. The British – and it is distinctively British, with few equivalents elsewhere – belief that all museums should be free is a remarkable piece of idealism. It means that any of us can walk into our local gallery whenever we like and look at a Turner or even a Leonardo for nothing.

Sometimes you have to think the unthinkable. If we want museums to prosper and thrive in a harsh economic climate with central government talking about 40% cuts, an entrance fee may be the best way forward.

And it may have a good side.

The news that many councils are thinking about charging for the museums they run may seem like shocking news. In reality it is much less shocking than some of the other solutions councils have come up with to fund shortfalls. I am not upset by this proposal. No – what upset me was Northampton Council selling its statue of Sekhemka, a 4,000-year-old ancient Egyptian masterpiece it was lucky enough to own. This week the council said it would gladly sell it again. It ought to be ashamed. Selling this statue – for £16m – was a betrayal of every Northamptonshire child’s education, as well as an insult to the intelligence of everyone who lives there.

So wait. What if, instead of selling off great works of art, councils charged for admission? What harm would that do to education and public access? None. People would pay the entrance. School trips would go on, as they do now.

To be clear, charging must never replace public funding: it should be a supplement to it, and in no way is an excuse for cuts. Smaller museums around the country may always have to remain free because they simply don’t have the numbers to make entrance fees useful. But as I say this is about enhancing public funding and not replacing it – France both charges for museums and proudly gives them public money. Read More


Grant withdrawn, but Sonny Liew comic sells out and goes for reprint

The Straits Times/4 June 2015/By Akshita Nanda

The Art Of Charlie Chan Hock Chye by Sonny Liew is published by Epigram Books and sold about 300 copies at Books Kinokuniya alone on Saturday.

The graphic novel, which tells the story of a Singapore artist who represents 60-odd years of local history through his satirical comics, was awarded a publishing grant of $8,000 from the arts council. This grant was revoked when the book reached stores last month. The publisher has to return the $6,400 disbursed and has printed stickers to cover the arts council’s logo in the 1,000 copies printed for sale.

All 1,000 copies sold out last week, after news broke in The Straits Times about the grant being withdrawn.

Epigram Books’ founder Edmund Wee says he appealed last week against the arts council’s decision, but the appeal was rejected this week. He is printing up to 2,000 copies more of the graphic novel to meet demand and says he would need to sell 3,000 copies to break even after the withdrawal of the grant.

The Art Of Charlie Chan Hock Chye is the fastest selling and most successful graphic novel of the half-dozen Epigram Books has published.

“For most graphic novels, we print about 1,000 on average and these take two years to sell out,” Mr Wee says, citing titles such as the award-winning Ten Sticks And One Rice by Oh Yong Hwee and Koh Hong Teng, which won a rare bronze medal last year at the 7th International Manga Awards in Japan.

In response to earlier queries from Life!, the arts council said the graphic novel’s “sensitive content, depicted in visuals and text, did not meet our funding conditions”. Mr Khor Kok Wah, the council’s senior director, literary arts sector, added to this yesterday, saying: “The retelling of Singapore’s history in the work potentially undermines the authority or legitimacy of the government and its public institutions, and thus breaches our funding guidelines. The council’s funding guidelines are published online and well known among the arts community.”

He added: “Applications are assessed on their artistic merit, but it is clear any proposed content should not infringe funding guidelines. A grant withdrawal happens very infrequently and we always make extra efforts to explain to affected parties.”

In 2011, a collection of plays by Chong Tze Chien published by Epigram Books also had its funding by the council revoked – but before its publication. The book included Charged, a controversial drama about race relations and national service.

Both artist and publisher say a representative manuscript of The Art Of Charlie Chan Hock Chye was sent to the arts council when applying for funding.

In the first chapter, founding prime minister Lee Kuan Yew and his political rival Lim Chin Siong face off in cartoon form. Later in the book, the 1987 Operation Spectrum, in which 16 people were detained allegedly over a Marxist conspiracy to overthrow the Government, is turned into a plot to replace all music in Singapore with the melodies of American singer Richard Marx.

The comic has scored a publishing deal with American publisher Pantheon for an international edition next year.

Malaysia-born Liew, who became a Singapore citizen while working on The Art Of Charlie Chan Hock Chye, told Life! he was initially disappointed about the grant being withdrawn because it would make it harder for the publisher to break even. He added that he did not think his comic subverted the state and “the criteria for deciding are a bigger issue worth looking at”.

Expanding on this in a Facebook post, he thanked the arts council for its support of his other projects but added: “What remains are questions over the role of a national arts organisation, the role of public money, who decides how and why they’re spent. Should the NAC be more focused on artistic considerations and be less bound by political constraints? What is the criteria for deciding if a work crosses unacceptable boundaries?

“These are wider, longer term concerns, though perhaps there’s never a better time than the present to consider them, and I’d be glad if The Art of Charlie Chan Hock Chye plays some small role in all of it.”



Ladysmith and Salif Keita release anti-xenophobia song May 2015

Two of Africa’s most famous musicians have released a song against the recent violence against foreigners in South Africa.

The song United We Stand brings together Ladysmith Black Mambazo from South Africa and Malian singer Salif Keita. Lyrics include the line “Africa is our home, make it a better place”.

At least seven people have died over a month of attacks on foreigners and foreign-owned property in South Africa.

Ladysmith Black Mambazo singer Sibongiseni Shabalala told the BBC he was trying to send the message that “Africa is for all of us”.

“You can’t say you don’t like the foreigners to stay in your country. This is not your country, this is our country. We are saying people should unite. If there’s problems, people should sit down and talk. One day your child will want to go and live in Mali, Nigeria or Ghana but because of your decision today it will be very difficult for your future generation to be able to do the same.”

The song is playing on South African radio from Friday, will be premiered on TV on Friday evening and will be released on iTunes on Monday