E.N.S.A.? C.E.M.A.! Entertainment and Education in the State-Sponsored Arts, 1939–1945

Activity: Academic and Industrial eventsConference, workshop or symposium


The establishment of the Council for the Encouragement of Music and
the Arts (CEMA) during WWII is usually cited as the first instance of state
patronage of the arts in Britain. This paper sets out to challenge this
misconception in two ways: firstly, it will briefly examine the small-scale
state-funded arts projects that took place in interwar Britain; secondly,
it will consider CEMA alongside its lesser-known rival organisation,
the Entertainments National Service Association (ENSA).

ENSA, established shortly before WWII by the theatre impresario Basil
Dean, aimed to boost morale for troops and war workers via concerts,
revues and dance performances. In contrast, CEMA sought to educate
audiences with more “highbrow” forms, including classical music, opera,
ballet and exhibitions. As the war progressed, an enmity developed
between the two organisations, one which reveals broader conflicts over
the role that the state should play in the arts: on the one hand, those who
believed that the state should only sponsor art that improved public taste;
on the other, those who felt that state-sponsorship should simply seek
to improve morale.

In this paper, I argue that this debate over the role of the wartime
state in the arts exacerbated existing fault lines in both the British art
world and the British government. This recurring question of whether
art should educate or entertain, I will argue, points to two very different
conceptions of the state: one idealistic and Reithian, the other more
pragmatic and utilitarian.
Period10 May 201811 May 2018
Event titleArts in the State – The State in Arts
Event typeConference
LocationVilnius, LithuaniaShow on map