Arts Council England attacks ‘political’ artists funding

Rain, artist and researcher

Recent policy updates from Arts Council England (ACE), the body responsible for allocating government funding for the arts, have caused considerable unrest within the creative community. These revisions call for ACE-funded entities to exercise caution regarding “explicitly political or activist” comments made by associated individuals, even in personal contexts. Many in the arts sector, which has seen diminished funding under successive Tory governments, view this as a thinly veiled attempt at censorship, posing a significant threat to artistic freedom and expression.

By pressuring organisations that depend heavily on ACE funding, the policy would indirectly impact individual artists. The risk of funding being withdrawn for non-compliance, would foster a climate of caution against collaborating with artists known for their political engagement. Such a situation could, in extreme cases, lead to the shutdown of organisations due to financial pressures, further exacerbating the challenges faced by the arts sector.

ACE has since announced its intention to revise these guidelines in response to the backlash. However, the concern remains that the initial damage might be irreversible. ACE wields substantial influence within the arts sector as a primary funding body. This near-monopolistic grip on arts funding ensures that any guidance or policy revisions issued by the Council command the attention of the entire sector.

This scenario is particularly disconcerting for “political” artists like myself, who, even before ACE’s recent announcement, have encountered pressures to alter our work to meet the expectations of funding bodies. Such demands compromise our work’s integrity and intended impact and diminish it to a fraction of our original vision. This suppression of creative diversity and the ensuing questions about power dynamics and control within the arts sector are cause for concern.

The role of a social media presence in professional opportunities introduces further complexity. Social media vetting has emerged as a significant gatekeeping mechanism, influencing artists’ chances of selection for various opportunities. This is incredibly challenging and restrictive for artists from working-class and marginalised backgrounds, for whom these opportunities are often crucial sources of income. The imperative to cautiously navigate social media adds another constraint to our freedom to express authentic viewpoints or else get put on an unofficial ‘blacklist’.

As the implications of these policy changes begin to materialise, there is a growing apprehension that the situation may deteriorate further, compelling artists to navigate a precarious balance between financial security and artistic freedom. The increasing tendency to monitor and potentially penalise artists for their personal and professional expressions could intensify, further compromising creative freedom. Such a trajectory undermines the arts’ capacity to challenge established norms and inspire change.

The artistic community’s response to these proposals underscores the necessity to reevaluate the undemocratic structures and practices within the arts sector. It is imperative to foster an environment that champions artistic integrity and autonomy, ensuring the arts remain a vibrant and dynamic field that accurately reflects society’s myriad voices and perspectives.

The Socialist Party says:

  • No to censorship and blacklisting – for all workers’ right to free speech and organisation without threats to livelihoods
  • Democratise arts funding – end austerity and expand public funding across all cultural activities, including reversing the cuts to council arts departments, under the democratic oversight of culture sector workers and local communities