Arts leaders back ACE in DCMS review

Almost 250 arts leaders have written to Dame Mary Archer (pictured) to support the Arts Council against growing criticism as she embarks on a DCMS in-depth review of the organisation.

The letter comes as ACE is under critical pressure over its ten-year strategy, Let’s Create. “There has been a concerted effort by some in recent months to steer the public debate and conflate issues, encouraging an unhelpful media-driven impression of ‘a growing revolt’ against Arts Council England” the letter says. “We are concerned that those who shout the loudest and have the ears of the powerful are able to dominate at the expense of a range of voices and a reasonable consideration of the issues.”

In January ACE warned its client organisations not to support “overtly political or activist” statements that might create "reputational risk" and endanger funding arrangements, leading to accusations that it was limiting freedom of speech. But the signatories believe that ACE’s Let’s Create is hitting the right targets for broadening the arts.

The letter is signed on behalf of 220 organisations in the small and mid-scale, including Battersea Arts Centre, Culture Liverpool, Shakespeare’s Globe, Milton Keynes Arts Centre and Yorkshire Dance, steered by Gavin Barlow, CEO of The Albany in Deptford and co-director of Future Arts Centres.

Archer is backed by a 14-member advisory panel chaired by the former CEO of Manchester’s HOME, Dave Moutrey. 

The letter says that ACE’s strategy has succeeded in moving forward the debate on ensuring that high quality, excellence and representative culture and practice reach a broad audience, “refusing to fall into the trap of creating false and obstructive divisions between ‘quality’ or ‘excellence’ and ‘representation’” it says. “There seems to be an effort to revisit these divisions and reframe the Public Body Review as instead a review, and hoped for revision, of the Let’s Createstrategy.

“We cannot allow a few voices to influence a swing back to an interpretation of excellence that narrows the opportunity for the ‘broad public’ to experience culture and creativity. We should resist an attempt to create divisions, playing into the prejudices and unfounded fears of some commentators who seem to believe that ACE is determined to shift public subsidy on to supporting amateurs and community projects’” Archer is being told.

On her appointment in March culture secretary Lucy Frazer said the in-depth Archer review would ensue that ACE was driving creative excellence in the arts by “funding ambitious projects of the highest quality”.

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