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Jessica Duchen
Thursday 11th February 2010

...sat on the wall of the new Lottery-funded arts building and wondered where all the people were...

A very strong piece today in The Independent by Rosie Millard on the catalogue of waste and misery that has in so many cases resulted from the great bonanza of building the wrong kind of new arts venues with no sensible ideas about what content to put in them. Ten years on, it's clear what nonsense so much of it was. Focusing on supposedly trendy stuff like digital interactive whatnot and popular music and erecting the buildings in places where they were supposed to regenerate communities didn't work, full stop. Read the whole thing here.

The thing is, and as we all remember from the Dome, a building is pointless without something interesting to put inside it. You'd think that that was a no-brainer, wouldn't you? A lot of us pointed this out at the time, but those wielding the dosh didn't seem to want to listen. We can point fingers and sing playground songs and say 'told you so' now, but that doesn't change the fact that it's not very funny.

The real investment should have gone a) into the arts companies themselves - the people, not only the bricks; b) into making top-level specialist arts education available to all with enough talent regardless of cost, and c) into training thinkers and entrepreneurs to head the organisations, plan the programmes and teach the youngsters. That way we could keep creating and bringing audiences the inspired performances that chime with their innermost emotions. Instead we got buildings in the wrong spot offering silly stuff that nobody wants. 

Meanwhile the BBC's Young Musician of the Year contest is underway yet again, and eight out of the 25 finalists are from Chetham's music school in Manchester. A few more specialist music schools would have been a sensible outlay of a tiny fraction of that Millennium lottery money, but I guess it's too late now. We'll be lucky if a new world-class music school opens in this country short of 2050. 

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February 12th, 2010
3:02 PM
I disagree that Rosie Millard's piece was 'strong' as you put it. It was lazy journalism and a cheap shot at some admittedly easy targets. I say 'some', because Rosie highlighted New Art Gallery Walsall as an example of one of the 'four biggest failures' (which it is clearly not) seemingly because, as it was celebrating it's 10th birthday, it fitted the article nicely. Thankfully you have thought about things a little more and come up with some constructive criticism that actually tackles how things could have, and there for could in the future, be done better. Maybe you should write for the Indy instead. I may not agree with everything you say but at least it's constructive rather than lazy and therefore destructive.

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About Jessica Duchen

Jessica Duchen is a music journalist and the author of four novels, two biographies and several stage works. She writes regularly for The Independent and BBC Music Magazine. Her latest novel, Songs of Triumphant Love, is published by Hodder.

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