‘Scary’ ACE threat over 'political statements'

Culture organisations have been warned that they may lose their Arts Council England funding if they are found to be “engaging in activism”.

In an updated policy guidance ACE has introduced a new section with the head “Considering Reputational Risk” warns the recipients of subsidy – and partners of funded organisations – should refrain from making “overtly political or activist” statements with a veiled threat that grants might be in danger without specifying what the activities might be.

Sent to National Porfolio funded  companies, the new guidance says:  “Reputational risk can be generated not just by the organisation and its decision but also by staff and other individuals associated with the organisation acting in a personal capacity” the guidance says, adding, “activity that might be considered overtly political and 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.”

But in an apparent climb down this week an ACE statement said: “We wanted to clarify the reason for the changes we made, and – for the absolute avoidance of doubt – our position on freedom of expression for artists and organisations.

“For the avoidance of doubt, 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.”

Nevertheless, arts figures such as the musician Feargal Sharkey and Nikita Gill have taken to social media to condemn worrying implications in the guidance.

The author Matt Haig wrote that ACE seemed to be “planning to cancel people’s funding if they say ‘political statements’. Not illegal statements. Not discriminatory ones. Political statements. The kind artists have made through history. Scary.”

Meanwhile DCMS have announced a comprehensive review of ACE before deciding on its future.

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