A Response to the Emma Rice Arts Council Funding Controversy

UPDATE: Wise Children release NPO application and all ACE correspondence.

https://wisechildren.blog/2017/08/16/f-y-i/amp/

***

I’ve been watching the comments from both sides of the argument about the Arts Council’s decision to fund Emma Rice’s nine day old company, Wise Children, to the tune of £2mil with interest. The controversy started with an article in Arts Professional.

The agreement to fund Emma Rice’s new company is allegedly part of the Arts Council’s attempts to redistribute £170mil to the regions.

Emma as a professional is incredible. Her early departure from the Globe was a travesty and short-sighted by the management board – why employ someone to do a job in a unique and new way and then get rid of them for being too unique and out there? It was a ridiculous situation – but Emma’s work has rightly received acclaim from those in the industry and her track-record with Kneehigh speaks for itself. So this is not about the her or her integrity. Absolutely not.

When asked to argue the economic benefits of the arts we are always told to use the Arts Council stat – for every £1 invested in the arts it returns between £2 and £7 into the local economy.

Wise Children have announced a residency at the Old Vic Theatre in London. Great for them. But London is not Bristol where the company claim to call their home (they have just re-registered the company from London to Bristol). What I personally want to see is any work they produce premiering here. Them using local, south west-based practitioners, actors and crews in their productions and rehearsing the work here in the South West. If they don’t then I’m sorry but their “being based” in Bristol is having no benefit to the cultural economy of Bristol or the South West and therefore they should not have received the funding. The benefit of opening work here would be that people would come and see shows and spend money at local businesses surrounding the venue and it would give much needed work to local practitioners and stop theatre becoming completely London-centric. Already they have a website designed by a London-based company (Bob King Creative) – again I’m not questioning the company or it’s reputation but the South West is home to many amazing web design companies – if Wise Children is going to make a home here then I would like to see them making use of local companies and bringing employment to talented individuals in the regions.

Where has the money for this funding come from? If it does not benefit the South West then which companies that could have received funding are loosing out instead?

Emma herself has an amazing track record but for the Arts Council to fund an entirely new company is a little iffy to say the least. They do not seem to have met the criteria which any other organisation would have to meet to join the National Portfolio. Would any other organisation with no track record be accepted into the National Portfolio in the same way? I do not believe they would.

A lot of companies who continue to be in the National Portfolio have not received an increase in their funding over the next four years. Whereas I am certain they are happy to remain in the National Portfolio – having funding at the same level is basically the same as having a funding cut. It could effect these companies moving forward and lead to job cuts and less output. There will be inflation and an increase in prices of other items and services they pay for but that is not reflected in the funding they have secured. Once more they are being asked to do more with less.

Bristol organisations have recently come together and agreed on funding cuts with Bristol Council. This in my opinion was a bad decision. Opening the door to any form of funding cuts only leaves it open for more funding cuts in the future. The pinch of this will be felt most by the smaller companies working in Bristol.

Whereas I applaud the fact Bristol Council are actively engaging in talks and discussions with cultural organisations unlike B&NES Council who are currently burying their heads in the sand, ultimately to accept any form of funding cut will have a detrimental effect on the long term sustainability of arts in the region. It was a bad and foolish decision. I believe the organisations should have come together to fight cuts not openly accept them.

The Arts Councilemphatically denies any form of favoritism in the case of Wise Children or on any of their funding decisions. But unfortunately I do not believe them. Having seen first-hand the dramatic collapse of the relationship between Bath and North East Somerset Council and the Arts Council which ended with voices raised on both sides. It is having a massively detrimental effect on cultural organisations with B&NES. I would call for the Arts Council to not deal with our Council and to deal with us, the artists directly. Our Council does not understand culture or have any buy in for its economic benefits, shown recently by our 100% funding cut to the arts budget. I do not care what the problem was or is.

I’m not interested. I just want ACE to stop punishing us for a disagreement with our Council. There has been a definite bias regarding funding decisions that have been made. The relationship has slowly been getting better but I cannot help but feel there is still an unconscious bias towards those of us working in Bath.

In the latest round of NPO funding central Bath was unsuccessful in securing NPO funding for any of our organisations. The only organisation in B&NES to receive NPO funding was the incredible Creativity Works headed up by the inspirational Oliver Jones. I know of at least three organisations who are good, strong cultural bodies that were not successful in Bath. The lack of support from B&NES and the Arts Council is quickly turning Bath into a graveyard for the arts.

There has been a lot of outcry about it only being organisations that haven’t received funding complaining about this decision. That is certainly not the case with me and has not been the response I’ve heard on the ground from professionals working in and around the South West region. I do not work for an ACE subsidized organisation and I certainly did not apply for NPO funding.

To say it’s just sour grapes from other organisations does a massive disservice to the many individuals I’ve spoken with who have genuine concerns about the processes involved with this application and the integrity of the Arts Council.

What we need is some transparency from the Arts Council about these sort of decisions. At the moment we have more questions than answers. I personally have a good working relationship with individuals in the Arts Council but there are obviously discussions happening around the closed-room tables that are to the regions’ detriment and it has to change. And I would like reassurances that all applications are given equal treatment because I’m sorry but I find that very hard to believe at the moment.

I do wish Emma every success with her new company and I really do hope they support artists working in the South West. One thing is for certain – all eyes will be on them now – what a hideous pressure to work under. I hope they do not let us, and the region down.

 

Please find below links to relevant articles with arguments from both sides (please do feel free to message me with any I’ve missed and I’ll update the list):

Arts sector demands answers over funding of Wise Children – Arts Professional

ACE Statement on funding Wise Children – Arts Council England

Wise Children Website

Arts Council England to spend £170m more outside London – The Guardian

Globe director Emma Rice embroiled in new funding controversy – The Guardian

Arts Council and Emma Rice address controversy over Wise Children funding – The Stage Newspaper

£2m in Arts Council funding for Emma Rice’s new company is everything that’s wrong with the arts – Arts Professional

Emma Rice defends new Bristol theatre company amid funding controversy – Bristol 24/7

Editor’s View: Don’t kick the Arts Council for funding Emma Rice – The Stage

 

 

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