Can you measure ‘great’ art? An imaginary conversation…

This blog post is a first draft of a spoken word performance script as yet unperformed. It is inspired by a ludicrous reference in this blog about the ludicrous forced adoption of Quality Metrics by Arts Council England.  Simon Mellor is their Executive Director.  He makes rather odd reference to Harold Pinter's he Birthday Party (1957), a play that is, of course, all about the killing of individuality, of an individual at the hands of Kafkaesque state conformity; about conformist brainwashing and execution.  The agents of the state in he Birthday Party are McCann and Goldberg.  I imagine a conversation between these two agents of the "hard" state and Simon (Mellor), a representative of culture, or state "soft" power.  Webber (also referred to as Stanley) is the unfortunate recipient of an incessant barrage of state-sanctioned pressure to comply, to conform.  Petey is an old man: quiet but also considerate.

All words are quotes from either Simon Mellor's blog or from he Birthday Party script.

The performance would be interspersed with propaganda images from Arts Council England's website...

he Birthday Party, Harold Pinter, Paperback Edition, 1963

Can you measure ‘great’ art? An imaginary conversation…



SIMON: Think about the last piece of great art you experienced.

Image of CRACKz performance.

SIMON: Variety of experience … a challenge, sometimes making it difficult to agree on what we mean by quality and excellence.

SIMON: In another life, many years ago…

SIMON: The Birthday Party … critical and commercial failure ...

Enter, by the back door, GOLDBERG and MCCANN, MCCANN carries two suitcases, GOLDBERG a briefcase.

SIMON: The Birthday Party

MCCANN: Is this it?

GOLDBERG: This is it.

SIMON: Would we have just written off The Birthday Party as another failed experiment…?

GOLDBERG: The secret is breathing.  Take my tip.  It’s a well-known fact.  Breathe in, breathe out, take a chance, let yourself go, what can you lose?  Look at me.

SIMON: If I could find a way of systematically comparing …, how might I use that information to do things differently in future?

GOLDBERG: One of the old school … Respected by the whole community.

Image of Type Motion installation at FACT, Liverpool.

SIMON: Quality Metrics … self, peer and public assessment … a rounded picture …

GOLDBERG: Culture?  Don’t talk to me about culture … He was an all-round man … He was a cosmopolitan.

Image of Underworld performance piece.

SIMON: The Metrics themselves … can come to an agreement about the indicators of quality that really matter to them.

GOLDBERG: One of the old school.

ADVERTISING BREAK: Find out more about the Quality Metrics and their origins.

OMNIPRESENT NARRATOR: Do Quality Metrics have origins?  How interesting … Ancestries, Pedigrees, Heritages, Roots …

GOLDBERG: The word of a gentleman is enough … You don’t trust me like you did in the old days …

GOLDBERG: Well, I’ve got a position, I won’t deny it.

MCCANN: Yes, it’s true, you’ve done a lot for me.  I appreciate it.

GOLDBERG: Say no more.

SIMON: The Quality Metrics system doesn’t just ask how good something was … a standard set of metrics … enables easy comparison …

GOLDBERG sighs, stands, goes behind the table, ponders … then speaks in a quiet, fluent, official tone.

GOLDBERG: The main issue is a singular issue …

SIMON: As the data set has grown larger and larger, we have in our hands increasingly valuable information …

MCCANN: Why did you leave the organization?

Image of The Nightingale and The Rose.

GOLDBERG: What would your old mum say, Webber?

SIMON: At its heart, the Quality Metrics system is about … a structured conversation … to capture valuable data … to understand … their intentions … to plan future programmes … improve the quality of their work.

MCCANN: Why did you betray us?

GOLDBERG: You hurt me, Webber.  You’re playing a dirty game.

MCCANN: You betrayed the organization.

GOLDBERG: We’ve got the answer to you.  We can sterilise you.

SIMON: Enable … more evidence …

GOLDBERG: Nothing’s changed … That’s why I’ve reached my position …

SIMON: Quality Metrics will give us data sets …

GOLDBERG: All my life I’ve said the same.

SIMON: Goal 1 – excellence is thriving

GOLDBERG: Play up, play up, and play the game.

SIMON: Developing a data culture.

GOLDBERG: Follow the line, the line, … and you can’t go wrong.

SIMON: Work closer together …

GOLDBERG: What do you think?  I’m a self-made man.

SIMON: Learn from each other …

GOLDBERG: I sat where I was told to sit.  I kept my eye on the ball.

SIMON: Improve what they do.

GOLDBERG: Top in all subjects.

SIMON: There is a widespread appetite to use Quality Metrics …

Image of a play in which one of the actors is in a wheelchair.

GOLDBERG: Because I’m telling you, I’m telling you, follow my line?  Follow my mental?  Learn by heart.

SIMON: New data culture fully embedded within the sector …

GOLDBERG: Don’t go too near the water.

SIMON: Well-developed peer networks …

GOLDBERG: And you’ll find – that what I say is true.

SIMON: Sharing their data …

SIMON: Making evidence-based decisions that benefit the whole sector.


SIMON: A publically [sic] funded arts and cultural sector with an understanding of current and potential customers … something akin to that already enjoyed by the commercial creative industries.

GOLDBERG: I lost my life in the service of others, he said, I’m not ashamed.

SIMON: All NPOs to adopt it.

Image of performance arts spectacle on scaffolding.

GOLDBERG: Do your duty and keep your observations.  Always bid good morning to the neighbours … I swore on the good book.

SIMON: With adoption will come innovation … inventive ways of applying the framework …

GOLDBERG: My motto.  Work hard and play hard.  Not a day’s illness.  (He emits a high-pitched wheeze-whine.  He looks round.)  What was that?

SIMON: The aggregated data set grows …

PETEY (broken): Stan, don’t let them tell you what to do!

They exit.