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Hands off the arts

Is the "arm's length" approach to public funding of culture coming to an end?

By Magnus Linklater   December 2006

In 1996, newly appointed as chairman of the Scottish Arts Council (SAC), I was required to approve an £8,000 grant to an unknown author called JK Rowling. A single mother, living in Edinburgh, she had written a book with the unpromising title Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. Since it was a sizeable grant, I asked about its rationale. “It’s simply a brilliant book for children,” said the head of the literature department. “I loved it—I think they will too.” It was a reasonable explanation. We moved on to other things.

I was able recently to ask Rowling what difference…

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