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Monday, November 29, 2021

A Netflix for arts lovers? It might work in Italy, but not here

But there is a wider problem with the idea of a British cultural Netflix, that is shaped by our national identity. We have a problem with the arts in this country and that is because it is so often used as a reason to divide us, when we really know that, deep down, the best art has the opposite effect. Until fairly recently, these divisions were purely social, manifested in a sort of us-and-them mentality (in spite of the best efforts of outreach programmes), a sense that a “Britten opera is not for the likes of me”. The result of all this is that our attitude to the arts can sometimes be a bit apologetic, as if we are embarrassed in case something might be viewed as a bit highbrow. 

In Italy, they have no truck with such things. Opera, for example, is very hard to avoid, there are more than 50 houses (admittedly some of them very small) and class is no boundary to enjoying Verdi or Puccini. Similarly, the sensitivity of town planners (or perhaps the lack of town planning) has meant that Italians are very much alive to the architectural splendour of the past. History often seems alive, and is very much celebrated, rather than challenged, scorned or toppled. When the Ufizzi was slightly damaged by a mafia bomb in 1993, the entire city of Florence went on strike in protest.

Indeed the divisions within the arts in this country at present do nothing but make the idea of a one-stop channel seem fraught with problems. We can’t celebrate our artistic heritage without someone shouting out the word “problematic” on Twitter (and usually that refers to the artist, not the work) and a service which invited viewers to enjoy the treasures of the past would probably find itself horrendously empty, as more and more things are held in contention. 

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