Why live art really matters

Tom Sutcliffe might have reached his seventies but he is as passionate as a teenager about the arts and when he talks about art he means live performing arts. He feels strongly that theatre, opera, concerts and ballet should be enjoyed live and not via a screen.

Tom in 2010

Tom in 2010

“I believe that the present method of handing out subsidies for the arts is wrong. I want to see the Arts Council abolished, more tax money spent but the power should be given to local authorities to support their own theatre and opera companies as happens in Germany and Sweden, where even smaller cities have their own opera house and theatre with permanent ensembles. Look at Germany they have more than 250 theatre ensembles,“Tom Sutcliffe says and produces a booklet from a German city where one building is home to concerts, operas and ballet performed by permanent ensembles. “It brings the locals in,” he stresses. “They might not be as good as the top performers in larger cities but look at it as a broad pyramid, where the base layers are important as they give artists a chance to move upwards. And besides, only very rich people are concerned about the best. “

Tom knows what he is talking about. His whole life has been spent in the arts ever since he was taken, at the age of four, to see his first opera by his grandmother. Singing was his first love and he was a boy chorister at Chichester Cathedral and at the age of sixteen gained a choral scholarship to Magdalen College, Oxford and sang professionally from the mid 1960’s. His career rocketed and he sang all over Europe but then suddenly it stalled in the early 1970’s and he became a music journalist and a much respected opera critic at The Guardian for twenty three years as well as writing books on opera and articles for other magazines and journals on the arts. He is still a prolific writer and also works as a dramaturg. Tom and his wife Meredith Oakes, also a dramaturg, live in Streatham and both their children were educated in Dulwich.


Giselle screened live in cinemas across the world – Royal Opera House

Tom has now been asked to give a talk on the importance of live arts by The Friends of Dulwich Picture Gallery and it promises to be an exciting evening. Tom does not water down his views and any question of the new lovers of opera that have been brought in by live screenings from the New York Metropolitan Opera and London’s Royal Opera House is met with a shrugged shoulder.

“These screenings are all edited and allow the viewer to see only what the camera chooses. It leaves no room for the imagination to flow. What happens with live performances is shared responsibilities. Live is unique and cannot be repeated,” Tom says, “ but of course it costs more than a technically reproduced version which can be seen on screens by the masses.”

Regional theatres are often forgotten. Image thanks to London SE1

The local theatre companies that used to exist died out when commercial television appeared and since then, with TV on demand, the choice of entertainment has broadened in a way that no one could have foreseen. “TV used to be a communal experience, we discussed what we saw the night before and it was the same programme for all, now we have a wide variety of choices and what we see now is a fracturing of the arts.”

Tom does admit that live performances are labour intensive but that it is vital for a civilized country to have an active life of the arts, and live arts at that. “The country committed a great mistake when they cut back support for regional theatres.” Tom does not think that individual artists such as painters and sculptors should be supported by the state, “they can find ways to get private support, and I also feel that private donors should be given tax breaks like they do in the United States.”

His views are strongly held and there is bound to be a lively Q&A session after the lecture.

Why We Need Performing Arts Live!
Lecture given by Tom Sutcliffe
Tuesday 2 February 7.30 pm Linbury Room at
Dulwich Picture Gallery
£14, £12 Friends includes a glass of wine

Tickets can be obtained online www.dulwichpicturegallery.org.uk
Or from the ticket desk in the gallery
For further information contact the gallery at 020 8693 5254 or the ticket line
020 8299 8750 between 10am – 4pm

This event is organised by The Friends of Dulwich Picture Gallery

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