21 November 2010

No Art Please, You're Not British

I thought we had got beyond this daftness:

A Cellist was held at Heathrow Airport and questioned for 8 hours this week. A terrorist suspect? False passport? Drug smuggling? If only it was so dramatic and spectacular. Her crime was coming to the UK with her cello, to participate in musicology conference organised by the School of Music at the University of Leeds and it was for this reason that Kristin Ostling was deported back to Chicago. What was UK Borders Agency (UKBA) thinking? That she would sell her cello to earn some cash, or do a spot of moonlighting at some secretive classical music gig, while she was here?

The Conference organiser, Professor Derek Scott informed the Manifesto Club that “She was not being paid a penny for this, but these zealous officers decided that playing a cello is work and, paid or unpaid, she could not be allowed in.”

Lovely logic here: if you are a professional cellist it follows that putting bow to string is work, and therefore not permitted according to the terms of your visa. And as the article explains, it's the same for painters and photographers: if you dare to create a masterpiece here in the UK, you might end up being deported, and blacklisted.

Now, call me old fashioned, but it seems to me that we should actually be *begging* artists to come here and create: it not only enriches the cultural ecosystem based on the UK and all it contains, it makes it more likely that other artists and non-artists will want to come to the country to see where these works were spawned, bringing with them all that valuable touristic dosh that everyone seems to be scrabbling after these days.

But the problem is really deeper than this simple loss of these earnings. What is really disturbing is the crass way the UK Borders Agency equates artistic creation with work: if you act as an artist - even if you are not paid - you are theoretically doing something that should have a price on it. This is really part and parcel of the thinking that everything should be copyrighted and patented - that you can't do stuff for free, or simply give away your intellectual creations.

It's a sick viewpoint that leads to kind of shaming situations described above. And of course, in the usual way, the people imposing these absurd practices haven't though things through. After all, if musicians can't play, or artists paint, when they come to the UK, surely that must mean by the same token that visiting foreign mathematicians can't manipulate formulae, and philosophers are forbidden to think here...?

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12 comments:

Laurel L. Russwurm said...

Sadly, I don't think it's just philosophers. I think in back of all of these rules, regulations and controls is that "they" don't want any of us to think. It's much easier to control drones.

What a waste.

Dan said...

Since I'm a computer professional, I'd better not bring any computer devices (including my iPhone) when I visit Britain, nor touch a computer of any sort while I'm there (whether for business or pleasure).

glyn moody said...

@Laurel: yes, that's the end point....

glyn moody said...

@Dan: good point....

RagnarokAngel said...

So no one should be allowed to bring a camera because taking photographs involves "creating" works. By posting them to flickr I'm therefore "working".

And who is it that gets to decide what constitutes "work" anyway?

glyn moody said...

@RagnarokAngel: with luck it might collapse under the weight of its own absurdities...

zotz said...

What are they planning to do about the professional singers?

glyn moody said...

@zotz - or actors...?

rdale said...

In your blog you imply that it is the UK Border Agency that has come up with the rules. But in the article you link to it says:

"Sadly this is not a unique case of a UKBA jobsworth being ludicrously overzealous, but part of a systematic strategy of threatening warnings to artists and musicians that they have to submit to the points-based system (PBS). Under these rules, introduced by New Labour nearly two years ago, any organisation which wishes to invite non-EU artists or academics must register as a ‘licensed sponsor’. Their visitors must then go through a set of arduous procedures.."

This is the kind of reason why I can't imagine myself ever voting Labour again. You wonder why these rules were brought in. Were there UK cello players and water colour artists complaining the foreigners were coming to the UK for conferences and holidays and then playing instruments and painting things, which was wrecking their livelihood? I think not.

So to me there is something deeply weird about New Labour and their belief that people only ever do things for money, and that people can be made avoid doing things if they are threatened with rules and laws. They just don't understand that anyone might do something for the love of it whether or not they get paid, and that they might come to the UK for the fun of collaborating with other people.

glyn moody said...

@rdale: you're right, and I thought about mentioning that (and the fact that even Labour is beginning to tiptoe away from some of its excesses - http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2010/nov/21/labour-cut-time-terror-suspects-held), but I didn't want it to dwell on the political side, so much as the broader issues.

After all, the regulations are still there, and still being enforced. Let's see whether the coalition keeps them or gets sensible.

FleaStiff said...

I realize that this was a cellist on a tourist visa who was en-route to an academic music conference. One wonders what sort of a visa a scientist might need if he was en-route to a conference where he was to learn about recent research in his field.

Now as for artists, it happens that many municipalities in the USA actually try to lure artists by offering real estate at very low prices to them and offering loans at favorable terms to them. So one wonders just what it was that these Border Agents were fearful about. The musician was on a tourist visa and clearly had no intention to settle in the UK.

How do such Border Agents get their jobs in the first place? How on earth do they manage to hold onto them?

glyn moody said...

@FleaStiff - all good questions, to which I have no good answers....