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Sunday, February 22

Parochial and pedestrian Britain

Just published elsewhere a couple of long articles about new visa restrictions which are stifling - if not stamping out - cultural exchange with artists outside the EU and Commonwealth.

The new regulations enacted by the Home Office impose large fees and monitoring requirements on arts bodies regarding artists they invite. This has led already to a restriction on vists and cases of visas being denied, such as one by the virtuoso Russian pianist Grigory Sokolov, who cancelled what was to be his second performance in this country at the Southbank Centre in London when he could not provide the excessive amount of documents required for his weekend visit in April.

When a small regional body wanted to invite a group of Kurdish artists the Home Office told them they must travel 900 miles to Beirut and stay for three weeks and only then could they apply for the correct documents.

The entire regime is predicated on what must be a very few cases of people either over-staying or claiming asylum (though, as usual, the cost-benefit analysis is no part of their argument). What the Director of the National Portrait Gallery is quoted in the Observer saying is the new regime's "unintended effect" is actually, I think, more like what the actress Janet Suzman describes thus:

This country has always been a hub, an airy place where people from all over the world could come and express themselves in art. This legislation stamps on all that with a clunking, hobnail boot.
This 'stamping boot' attitude is totally confirmed in a statement from the Home Office:
It is only right that those that benefit from the great cultural contribution migrants bring with them play their part through our system of sponsorship in ensuring that the system is not being abused.
Excuse me but it is not just the 'arty' who benefit, it is everyone. The idea that art in its many different varieties - think of the explosion of interest in 'world music' - is only of value to a few British people and not to all - in fact, not to what this 'airy place' country should be all about - strikes me as the very definition of a nationalistic, parochial, commercialised and in the end pedestrian stance.


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