UK Arts Funding Body Urges Grantees to Stay Out of Politics

Arts Council England (ACE), a governmental funding body for the promotion of the nation’s arts sector, has informed its grant recipients of new guidelines outlining that any activity that “might be considered to be overtly political or activist” could potentially conflict with public funding agreements or opportunities. ACE categorized such activity or statements, from either a funded organization or an affiliated individual, as a “reputational risk” to the council in a January modification to its Relationship Frameworks policies for the 2023–2026 funding period.

Data from the current investment cycle indicates that ACE has funding agreements with almost 1,000 arts and culture organizations, institutions, and trusts across England. The British magazine Arts Professional publicized ACE’s policy updates in a February 13 report and brought the conversation into a thread on X, generating both confusion and outrage about where the line is drawn for protections in freedom of expression in the culture sector.

Many social media users opined that ACE’s inclusion of political activity in the policy update amounts to censorship and compared it to Nazi-era restrictions on “degenerate art.” Others cited the Council’s own public statement from 2022 on the Russian war in Ukraine as a direct conflict to its new guidelines. The Council did not immediately respond to Hyperallergic‘s request for comment.

A social media user cited ACE’s own political statement about Ukraine in response to a new policy update warning about the consequences of “political” activity. (screenshot Rhea Nayyar/Hyperallergic via @bruculino on X)

In response to the media attention from Art Professional‘s report, ACE issued a public statement on Wednesday, February 14, attempting to clarify the decision-making behind the policy updates and address concerns. The Council “fully respect[s] and defend[s] the rights of individual artists to freedom of expression, political or otherwise,” the statement said, but added that creatives who operate in public-facing or directorial roles for an organization are likely to have their personal views “taken to be those of the wider organization.”

The Council specified that any individual employed in such positions should consult their organization before undertaking any political activities or making statements, even at a personal capacity, to mitigate any blowback toward the organization and its other workers.

Social media users responded to ACE’s X post about the clarification statement with disappointment, saying that it was “vague,” “unclear,” and presents a grey area that fails to properly define what is and isn’t controversial or political.  

ACE’s new guidelines come in the wake of some European governments’ attempts to suppress pro-Palestine advocacy. Four days after Hamas’s October 7 attack on Israel, UK Parliament member Suella Braverman issued an advisory letter to the police attempting to criminalize the Palestinian flag during public demonstrations. Recently in Germany, the Berlin Senate introduced a clause in its public funding agreements that would have forced recipients to sign off on a self-declaration against any form of antisemitism — including “the targeting of the state of Israel” as defined by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance. The Berlin Senate scrapped the clause after intense backlash and calls for boycotting the German arts scene. 

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