Arts Council England clarifies position on “political statements” from grant-winning organisations

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Arts Council England (ACE) has clarified its position on “political statements” made by individuals linked to funded organisations, in a statement released today (February 14)

The awarding-body had faced backlash following a recent report from APNews detailing an update in ACE’s Relationship Framework policy that urged ACE-funded organisations to consider the “repetitional risks” of individuals making “overtly political statements, including about matters of current political debate.”

The warning was made to National Portfolio Organisations (NPOs) – a group of almost 1,000 arts and cultural organisations who receive regular funding from ACE – and Investment Principles Support Organisations (IPSOs), a group of 40 organisations that help NPOs, according to APNews.

“Reputational risk can be generated not just by the organisation and its decisions but also by staff and other individuals associated with the organisation acting in a personal capacity,” the update seen by APNews reads.

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According to Unherd, the new guidelines state that ACE will “monitor” creative and artistic output that could be “deemed controversial” — threatening sanctions including a withdrawal of funding or increased monitoring.

Such frowned upon statements include “activity that might be considered overtly political or activist and goes beyond your company’s core purpose and partnerships with organisations that might be perceived as being in conflict with the purposes of public funding of culture”.

Earlier today, ACE responded to backlash, clarifying its position. “In the wake of social media debate about an Arts Professional report on updates to our relationship framework for funded organisations, we wanted to clarify the reason for the changes we made,” it reads.

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“And, for the absolute avoidance of doubt – our position on freedom of expression, for artists and organisations,” ACE adds. “Our guidance does not seek to stop any artist or organisation from making the art they want to make, or speaking out in any way they wish – including in ways that challenge institutions and authorities.”

“The guidance does, however, set out a series of steps for organisations to go through, to ensure that if they, or people associated with them, are planning activity that might be viewed as controversial, they have thought through, and so far as possible mitigated, the risk to themselves and crucially to their staff and to the communities they serve,” it states. Read the full statement here.

The change comes a month after Culture Secretary Lucy Frazer announced a full-scale review of Arts Council England. It aims to assess the future of the public body following an earlier assessment. According to Unherd, the review could “highlight the poor treatment of dozens of artists”.

Gemma Ross is Mixmag’s Assistant Editor, follow her on Twitter

Written by: Tim Hopkins

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