6 Jan 2010
Where the money comes from - and goes
There seems to me to be a much greater sense of civic pride in France than in the UK. This applies particularly to the local arena, where spending money on civic resources and appearances is expected and welcomed. In Britain, any council expenditure on non-essentials such as the theatre and dance, art works, street decorations and the like tends to get criticised by a large section of the local population, and the tabloid press nationally, as a 'waste of taxpayers' money', 'councillors's ego trips', or most damning of all 'elitist'.
This goes to all public expenditure, see for example a big piece in the Sunday Times on 3rd January 2010 headed 'BBC wastes millions' about art works being commissioned around the BBC redevelopment. Of course, the Sunday Times is owned by Mr Murdoch, who also owns Sky TV, which of course needs to damage the BBC for commercial reasons, but there is nonetheless a willingness of people to accept this sort of idea.
In France, local mayors, departments and regions are all prepared to invest in the quality and enjoyment of life, whether it is subsidising a theatre, financing cultural events, or justinstalling and maintaining wonderful flower beds everywhere. All part of maintaining and enhancing la patrimoine.
Here are a couple of examples. In Vire, a town with a population of about 14,000 people, there is a new theatre, seating 618, with a team of about 18 people, including a writer in residence, and which puts on demanding and interesting productions. It also has extensive educational programme, and takes productions to quite small villages throughout Normandy. It is the Theatre de la Preau, and has a budget of 1.6million euros.
In Villedieu-les-Poeles (population under 5000) there is a museum of traditional furniture, small museums of lace making and copper working, a whole range of free public events in the streets.
There are theatres at St Lo, Coutances, and Granville. Granville also has its Museum of Modern Art. Avranches has the Scriptorium - a museum of all the old documents from Mont St Michel - which as a series of exhibitions throughout the year: the most recent was of photographs of literary figures by Robert Doisneau. Every village has its salle des fetes, and a comite des fetes to devise and bring about events.
What is also noticeable is that all of these resources, events and activities receive their public funding from a variety of sources, and these are publicised properly. Theatre programmes, museum exhibitions and every event include details of where the money came from. For example, the Theatre de la Preau had a wonderful drama/dance production called On Somme (about sleep) which was fiannced by about a dozen organisations and other subsidised theatres, and a play about Madame de Sade co-produced with 10 other companies. The programme does not play it safe, with mixed media, dramas about racism, jazz, a piece based on the writings of Studs Terkel, and almost all are completely sold out. Many of the productions are actively ptomoted to young people and schools and colleges, with big discounts for parties and organised groups of students.
I cannot think of anywhere in the UK where small towns have such resources. Not Swansea, Bedford, Leicester for example or similar large towns have as many artistic and cultural facilities.