Remember last year, when Greenwich Council was too poor to fund its share of the Blackheath fireworks, but was happy to dole out cash to a select group of large festivals it could tie in with the Olympics?
Well, it’s happened again, with Greenwich & Docklands International Festival turning up at the town hall with a begging bowl and a demand for £100,000. Instead of being sent away with a flea in its ear, council leader Chris Roberts dished up the cash. Conservative councillor Nigel Fletcher raised the issue yesterday, meeting culture cabinet member John Fahy and council officers to attempt to nail just what was going.
Details are sketchy at present, but I understand the cash handout was only approved last week – after programmes had already been sent out. It starts this Friday with a revival of the Greenwich Fair, a series of outdoor performances around the town centre.
Heaven knows how the festival got into this mess – last year it got an extra £50,000 to see it expand from four days to 10 days. But it’s another example of the Olympic-shaped gun that’s aimed at the council’s head right now – where prestige events simply cannot be allowed to fail, because of the pressure on to get everything perfect for next summer.
Just as with the chaotic restoration of the Cutty Sark, the decision to have a big programme of arts events in the area in the run-up to 2012 (with grandiose claims like “the Greenwich Festivals firmly establishes Greenwich as the place to enjoy culture in the capital”) raises the stakes even more.
Of course, £100,000 may be seen as a small investment in bringing visitors and income into the area – and this is at least as much about the management of the festival as the judgement of the council. But when local parents are forced to take over playgroups because there’s apparently no money left, but cash can be found for a determinedly highbrow arts event, then it’s definitely time for some awkward questions.