Sunday, 10 August 2014

THE TRICYCLE THEATRE

There has been a lot of brouhaha in the last week following the schism that's opened betwixt the Tricycle Theatre in Kilburn and the Jewish Film Festival, wherein the Trike demanded the UKJFF not accept Israeli government funding and the UKJFF bailed on the Trike (actually, weirdly, there were a flurry of initial reports on Tuesday, and then the Guardian decided to put up FOUR opinion pieces on Saturday, though the general lunacy of the Fringe may have distorted my sense of time a bit).

I'm not really writing about that as I'm not sure I have anything of brilliant conviction to add – I think there have been valid arguments made by both sides, though I'm quite disappointed by the general tone of the criticism of the Trike; there doesn't seem to be much interest in entering a dialogue with them, or acknowledgement that the large number of people killed in Gaza recently might have added an emotional dimension, and the suggestion that it's in any way anti-Semitic as an institution is basically insane.

But one argument that's been repeatedly trotted out has really got my proverbial goat, which is that if the Tricycle would refuse Israeli government money, it's hypocritical of it to accept a grant from the Arts Council of England, given that the UK government has done bad things too, most specifically in Iraq. 

I feel like in general whattaboutery is a fairly unfortunate phenomenon, the idea a horrendous ongoing situation can be sort of semi brushed under the carpet by saying 'yeah, loads of kids are being blown up in Gaza, but Britain illegally invaded Iraq, sooooo…'. 

But that's not really my point - my point is (and I am copying and pasting most of this from something I wrote under a Guardian article) that while I'm not necessarily saying that the decision to refuse Israeli government money was correct, accepting funding from a domestic arts organisation is completely different to accepting one from a foreign or external body. 

The Arts Council of England is a non departmental public body that essentially redistributes a portion of the money of English taxpayers to English arts institutions based on apolitical criteria. It's not affiliated with any party or government and I feel like the only valid reason for a British institution to actively refuse its funding would be because it wished to deny its Britishness in a way that would probably exclude it from funding anyway (so for instance, if the new AD of a London theatre decided it would like to switch to an all-French repertoire, in French, for London's French community). The Tricycle has emphatically not done this, and it's surely far more responsible to accept public funding and make art that critiques the country that you yourself are of than deny yourself the funding and the ability to make said art.


On the other hand the government-subsidised promotion of your country's art or culture in foreign countries is inescapably propagandist on some level, and isn't usually funded by the same organisations. So while ACE might fund an institution and by extension work that is heavily critical of, say, the UK's foreign policy, it is profoundly unlikely that the British Council (directly financed by the Foreign Office and specifically set up as a propagandist body) would ever finance an international tour of said work. Likewise, the Israeli subsidy of the UKJFF came from its embassy. Again, I'm not saying any of this makes the Tricycle right or wrong to reject a festival sponsored by £1,400 of a controversial government's money (it strikes me that if they were worried about taking sides then maybe a better solution would have been to try and find a Palestinian-affiliated sponsor to take a token sum off as well). But what I am saying is that I think the constant whattaboutery over the Tricycle accepting ACE subsidy is misguided.

I'm sure to anybody from the arts world I'm just stating the bloody obvious at enormous length, again. But it worries me that political commentators are trotting out an un-nuanced, poorly thought through argument that would, taken to one extreme, deem that any artist or institution critical of the British government would be hypocritical to accept funding from ACE, a non-departmental body not affiliated to any government.

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