Head Shark at a Feeding Frenzy

Re: Brighton Fringe boss Julian Caddy on the Palace Pier: I hate it in its current form, The Argus, Brighton, 12 April.

It's just too tempting. I can't not discuss the article in the Argus, an interview with Julian Caddy, the head of the Brighton Fringe Festival.

For a start it's in The Argus, that local organ of the humorous headline (our favourite is Facebook Pervert Flees Court), not so much gonzo journalism as raised eyebrows, open mouthed journalism; 'you're joking, aren't you?' journalism; stories just too good to be true.

Poor old Julian, his interview ticked lots of boxes - London toff complains about the hoi polloi and their inclination toward unpleasant entertainment in ugly surroundings. If we aren't careful they will kill off the whole seaside malarkey we are all so dependent on. Brighton will go the way of Torquay or Aberystwyth or, horrors, Hastings.

You'd think if your name was Julian Caddy and you had a fairly complicated thesis to expound you would maybe not have chosen The Argus, which is always on the look out for a fight.

'What are you looking at? You looking at me? Are you?'

'No, no. I'm sorry, I didn't mean to suggest you were an ignorant thug. I think I've just come into the wrong pub. Don't mind me, I'll just slink quietly off.'

The odd thing about this interview is that there's no context. The assumption is that it was related in some way to the upcoming Brighton Fringe Festival, but the writer gives the impression that Julian was caught mid rant about something seemingly unrelated, the efficacy or otherwise of the seafront and the pier as a visitor draw. A little unfair, a reader might feel, but it's out there now, for our sport.

Context or no, he is the head of a substantial arts organisation and as such his comments are significant. The best slant you could give them is that as head shark, if you're going to organise a feeding frenzy, make sure the fish are sleek and oily and pleased with themselves so they clump together and are easy to pick off. In other words, the marks who stuff themselves with hot chips, have fun with coins of small denomination and shop at Primark are just not worth the effort. Even worse, they scare off the other fish, the ones worth catching.

But there is another way of looking at the subtext, one which is not quite so understandable, or forgivable. And it is suggested by the mention of a Michelin starred restaurant.

The Michelin Guide was originally intended, as I'm sure you're aware, to encourage those with cars to drive out into the country in order to wear out their tyres. It's now a token of something altogether different.

What are the arts for? What good are the arts? These are loaded questions with lots of answers.

The arts, especially government funded arts, such as the Brighton Festival and Fringe, are often poor relations of more prosaic imperatives. If they aren't subordinate to social policy (if there's a problem, apply some art) they are part of tourism initiatives or, in the case of a national government, soft power and brand burnishing.

However, there is another function of the arts. They constitute their own tiny ecosystem with money, especially lots of money. It's entirely logical if you think about it: two abstract concepts getting together and discussing what they've got in common.

Money might be an abstract concept to you, you say. You haven't got any.

Money is abstract. It's about trust, but above all it's about our relationship to each other. It's a kind of interactional language. As such money can get in with bad company. Like a shark needs a sucker fish, money attracts morality. The medieval church was onto the danger: rich men and eyes of needles. The Medicis had to do some serious penance to atone for their wealth.

We are no longer so fastidious. The connection between having a lot of money and being a good person is pretty well established. And art is the reward. To appreciate art you have to have the sensitive soul of a good person. And that is bestowed by money. You don't need to wait for heaven anymore. It's right here in a Michelin starred restaurant. No use giving such nosh to the poor, they wouldn't like it, not enough salt and sugar and the portions are too small. It's food for soul, not the body. Don't go to an expensive restaurant if you're hungry. You have to be a very well fed little piggy.

And what applies to the Michelin go-round applies to the arts, high and low. That it's about making money isn't questioned.

Yet as a close relative within the abstract family, it is art that can best question these unseemly connections. Art should be attacking the relationship between money and morality.

Someone in charge of an arts organisation, to be so utterly conflicted as this article indicates, to have no real sense that his organisation should be subversive, on the side of the underdog, should be attacking the very things he's promulgating, is shocking.

Paul Corcoran