A Guest Post from Bob Watts

Today’ thought is a Guest Posting from Bob Watts with some thoughts on, as he says, art and cuture. As it is a guest blog, the views are his not mine.

First things first; this is not a comment on the Middle East, it is neither pro-Israeli nor pro-Palestinian, it is about art and culture. That is all.

Last night I went to the Globe Theatre in London to see a production of The Merchant of Venice, this production was unusual for a couple of reasons. This biggest I guess is that it was being performed in Hebrew, for the GlobeToGlobe festival currently taking place in which all 37  of Shakespeare’s plays will be performed in 37 different languages.

The company performing this particular production was HaBima National Theatre of Israel. There were calls for this production to be pulled, calls which thankfully the Globe ignored.

Facts:

1. HaBima National Theatre are funded by the Israeli government,

2. HaBima’s trip to the Globe was part funded by the Israeli foreign ministry

3. The Globe theatre receives no government funding

4. The Globe to Globe festival is part funded by the National Lottery through the Olympic Lottery Distributer as it is part of the cultural Olympiad

So it would seem that on all sides there is some “public” money being spent…

Boycott From Within sent an open letter to the Globe, and in a letter to Guardian several prominent people in the industry voiced their disagreement and requested that the invitation be withdrawn.

The Globe refused to cancel the show and explained their reasons in their own open letter.

Opinion:

My view of this is fairly simple… when it comes to fiction; you have to have a fairly huge reason to ban it. The money from the performance would have to be going somewhere horrible or the content so grotesque and hatful that it was likely to insight a riot for me to consider a ban on fiction. That is not the case here. In this case it is that the company have performed in a place that others don’t agree with and paid for by a government engaged in questionable activities.

Whose government isn’t engaged in questionable activities?

Should we ban productions funded through the NEA because of Guantanamo bay?

Ban productions funded through the ACE because of Iraq?

Artistic control remains separate from the funding bodies then artists should be able to turn up drink the booze take the money and then create whatever they want. The money hasn’t come from the illegal acts… its tax payer’s money.

Could we all have better governments? Yes.

Could the governments we have now behave better? Yes.

Will this come about through the banning of artistic work? No!

Let’s remember what we are talking about…It’s a play, people dressing up as fictional characters and speaking fictional words…when used effectively of course this can, frequently is and was last night be relevant, engaging and moving… but it remains fiction. The people on stage are actors, musicians, singers, dancers, whatever their discipline they are artists. They create art. That art may also be a social comment but it is first and foremost art.

To attempt to ban art for political reasons is a dangerous and dark thing. That this came partly from within the artistic community is equally troubling. HaBima are funded by the government of Israel but that doesn’t make them any more complicit in that government’s actions as it does make our own partially government funded National Theatre complicit in the pasty tax.

How would we feel if a festival in Brazil refused to take a NT production because it is funded by the Arts Council and there for complicit in the invasion of Iraq? It’s a backwards and bizarre argument.

The arts are not supposed to make money; commercial profit is not its purpose. Its purpose is to entertain us, if it can simultaneously make us think then hurrah.

It is due to this that the arts will forever need public support, but that does not bind any particular organisation to support its funders positions, occasionally the funding body may put conditions on the money through the application process, this is the case for HaBima, there remit is to bring art to all areas, including the settlements. We also have this here, Arts Council England don’t just dish out money to anyone with half a script and an idea, there are conditions and caveats that must be explained, implemented, documented and evaluated.

There was a demonstration outside the Globe last night; I have no problem with this. Wave your flags, hand out your leaflets. Use every chance you can to further your cause and raise the profile of this entrenched and tragic conflict. But don’t ban things, don’t censor artists. Has banning art ever achieved anything good?

There were some demonstrations inside the theatre as well. These were dealt with quietly and efficiently by the external security team and the Globe staff. Whilst ensuring other patrons could still see and hear the performance the quiet and peaceful protesters were left relatively alone. After the first flurry of activity I could see those around me in the yard were a little jumpy but then the Art did its thing and everyone became absorbed in the story and the characters. I can’t praise the security team and the Globe staff enough; they performed a difficult task with a professionalism and dignity. The vast majority of the audience were with the actors all the way, willing them on when protesters became louder in the second act.

The performance itself was exquisite, the language beautiful and the story very well told. It is testament to Shakespeare’s writing, and HaBima’s talent that this tale transcended the disruptions and language barrier to move me and those I was with. By the end of the curtain call it wasn’t just the groundlings and the protesters who were stood!

The Palestine Israel question will take wiser men then I to solve and so I will say only this…this place, these wounded and distressed peoples need all the culture and art they can get. Engaging and evocative theatre is a medium through which ideas can be explored and relationships formed.

You won’t get freedom for anyone by banning art.

An afterthought (or second thought…boom boom!):

Any of you who happen to follow my twitter account (@wattsbob1) will know that a few weeks ago I had a fairly major rant about Derek Achora, you may be thinking “hang on he was saying the other week let’s try and get this pathetic Spirit medium’s tour  pulled now he is saying that you shouldn’t ban art”

Derek Achora claims to be the UK’s number 1 Spirit Medium I was going to link to his website here but I can’t bring myself to do it… if you absolutely must then you can Google him.

His act in his view isn’t an act at all, it’s a service. If he was saying “hey look guys I can trick you in to giving me information without knowing you’re doing it and then use it to convince you I can talk to the dead…” then he would have an act, and that would be fine…

But he is presenting himself as Non-Fiction, when in fact he is Science Fiction. And that isn’t art it’s an attempt to defraud grieving and vulnerable people of their money.

It isn’t different because HaBima are excellent and Derek Achora not to my taste.

It’s different because HaBima are an artistic group and Derek Achora is either a con man or mentally ill. And as such for his own protection (assuming mental illness), or the protection of vulnerable people (assuming con man) he should not be given a platform.

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