Thursday, 31 March 2011
The PBS and the Arts Council: Hatchet job at the RFH
On Sunday 24 January 2011 the PBS organised the Eliot prize readings at the Royal Festival Hall which seats 2,500 people. The previous year the same readings were organised at The Queen Elizabeth Hall that was packed out with about 900 people. Just a few years before that the readings were in The Bloomsbury Theatre, that has a capacity of 535 seats. The Prize had clearly outgrown the Bloomsbury, and within a year or so had outgrown the Queen Elizabeth Hall. There was a near capacity audience at the Festival Hall. That represents more than a doubling of audience with every change. The atmosphere has always been great but it had become ever more, well, festival-like.
The Arts Council sent out an observer who could not have done a better of job of stabbing the organisation in the back if she had been paid to do it. Her report was grudgingly complimentary but noted that she would not have had quite that shortlist (as if it was any business of hers to comment on it, ignoring the fact that there were two Nobel Prize winners on same list) and that a lot of people in the audience seemed to know each other, hinting that the audience was a matter of a small cabal of people pleasing themselves, a cosy little club of some 2,500 people. In other words the double doublings of the audience meant nothing to her, nor the fact that the RFH was the place that those who loved poetry would naturally flock to. All in all it was a hostile report where in reality there was only cause for celebration. Frankly, it looked like a set-up to me.
It didn't help that I recognised the name of the person submitting the report, it being someone I wouldn't particularly trust to make any judgment on poetry or indeed on much else. I won't name her here. ACE knew that the Eliot Prize was the biggest feather in the cap of the PBS. Hatchet job done.