BBC: Universities in England spend £20m on art work- context? sadly none provided

Universities in England spend £20m on art work

This article by Claire Jones on the BBC website is misleading in so many ways and is a great example of selling a story in a sensationalist manner, without considering the context. A bit of balancing could be good. What are strange quote is used from UNISON: Unison criticised the spend, saying universities were choosing “style over substance”.

Style over substance? What do they mean? Good art over bad? What has style got to do with this? What substance do they mean?

A quick look at Wiki: Style over substance is a logical fallacy that occurs when someone bases their argument on compelling language, obfuscation, and various terms of art, instead of legitimate logical analyses. The fallacy works in two ways. It can propose an idea using style rather than substance, or it can reject an idea by attacking its style and presentation rather than its information content.

My bolding there – because I think this article lacks substance. I don’t quite understand why UNISON hasn’t researched the economic logic? The employment the cultural industries bring, the money that cultural tourism attracts. Maybe the spokesperson for UNISON likes W.C. Fields: “If you can’t dazzle them with brilliance, baffle them with bullshit.” Though I fail to see where the bullshit is – maybe it refers to art?

This article is not about art, or even about money, it’s an opportunity to snipe in a very, dare I say, unstylish, way. If it’s about money, let’s look at some facts. I’ll focus on the Oxford situation as it is clearly the biggest offender, having spent £7.8m on an artwork. The overall inference of the article is that public money is being wasted on buying art. For the Oxford purchase, it clearly states that the money is mostly from HLF, with some from The Art Fund too. HLF, is the Heritage Lottery Funding.

HLF is the “Largest dedicated funder of heritage in the UK since 1994”

As the name tells us, this is Lottery money dedicated to conserving our heritage, not public money that pays for services. And it does what it says on the tin. You can’t apply for HLF money to give university staff a pay rise. If you choose to buy Lottery tickets, it’s your choice.

The Art Fund is the Natonal Fundrasing Charity for Art. Enough said.

No mention is made about the cultural history of Oxford – and how it underpins the very existence of the city. The Ashmoleum is the oldest public museum in Britain and was the first purpose-built museum in the world. The University is one of the biggest employers in Oxford:

“Oxford is the seventh most visited city in the UK by international visitors and is the tourism gateway to the rest of Oxfordshire.  We attract approximately 9 million visitors per year, generating £770 million of income for local Oxford businesses.” (Government Statistics)

£7.8m doesn’t seem a lot to invest with a return of £770m – does it? And in terms of economic value – the painting will accrue more money that putting it in the bank will these days.

If the BBC and other media persist in delivering stories to us that distort things in this way, we will just have to fight harder to make people understand that art and culture matter and are important to the economy. We need them. It’s ironic that the BBC, a major cultural industry, will put out unintelligent comment like this without providing a context or counter-argument.

I begrudgingly provided a link so people can read it as a resource. But I don’t expect BBC will reciprocate. There’s no place for comment provided.





Published by carolyn black

I'm an artist and also commission contemporary art in unusual locations. As a producer, I fundraise, curate, project manage and deliver projects. I'm also a writer and film-maker.

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