Close, but no cigar

Close, but no cigar

I blogged a fortnight back about how Points, our proposal for Arts Council England/BBC initiative The Space, lost out in the final funding round. Today I had a kind of post-rejection counselling session with a solicitous man from Arts Council England. In a scheduled phone call he explained how and why Points had come close – but not close enough. There’s a little more on that below, but I also want to sow the seed of a modest proposal. Which is that we make this blog a focus for discussion and critique of The Space across the summer months. (For background, see Mark Brown’s ‘Watch this space’ for the Guardian.) It is such an important attempt to find new media forms for the arts that it deserves concentrated critical attention during the six months from 1 May. So that’s what I intend to give it and its many projects – and I would love your help, whether in the form of discussion comments or in the contribution of more substantial reviews. I’ll return to that idea here in the coming weeks, and I hope we can together make the Illuminations blog a go-to place for thinking and talking about The Space.

As for my call with Charles Beckett from Arts Council England, I appreciated the institution’s concern to provide feedback on Points and to make the decision process as transparent as possible. That kind of follow-up rarely, if ever, happens in mainstream television. He explained that 110 full applications had been assessed and scored against the four key criteria and that then all of the projects had been considered in a two-day panel meeting with the aim of achieving a balanced offering. This balance was intended to reflect and respond to a range of different genres, types of experience, geographical distribution, the diversity of companies, the scheduling of the service and what might be learned from each project.

Points apparently scored very well against the criteria, and it had no obvious weaknesses or flaws. But it lost out in the balance discussion. Finally, apparently, the panel felt that there were other projects that better contributed to the desired balance. Close, indeed, but most definitely no cigar. (Wiktionary suggests the origin of the phrase derives from the practice of giving cigars as prizes at eighteenth and nineteenth century fairs in the United States. This is what could be said to those who narrowly failed to win one of the prizes. The Phrase Finder says that perhaps the earliest published use is in the script of the 1935 film Annie Oakley.) Does it help, as a loser, to know this? I’m not sure. Ultimately other projects were preferred – and probably there’s little more to be said. Such decisions depend on a host of factors, both conscious and unconscious, spoken and hidden, and at the end of the day they simply have to be accepted. An idea has lost out. No one’s hurt. Move along there. C’mon, move along.

Image: screengrab from the music video for “Weird Al” Yankovic’s song ‘Close, but no cigar’.