Arts Council England
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Statement: our Relationship Framework with funded organisations

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, and – for the absolute avoidance of doubt – our position on freedom of expression, for artists and organisations.

For a cultural sector to thrive, freedom of expression – personal, artistic, and political – is indisputably vital. All of us who work in the cultural sector have witnessed the effects of the stifling of artists’ free speech in other countries, and at the Arts Council we recognise our role in safeguarding this crucial right.   It is something we will always strive to protect, and in furtherance of this, our updated relationship framework explicitly reiterates our commitment to artistic freedom. It is right that our funding will be used to support work that will be perceived as political or controversial.

We also recognise, however, that the context in which artists and organisations are currently working is more polarised than ever before, and that conversations, particularly on social media, can lack nuance. Over recent years, we have all, on many occasions, seen individuals and organisations working in the cultural sector subjected to aggressive attacks for the art they have presented, the positions they have taken, or statements they have made. In this context, and in response to requests for guidance on navigating this environment from a number of leaders of cultural organisations, we refreshed our framework on managing reputational risks. 

Again, 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.

We do expect the organisations we invest in to ensure that the people who work for them, and the communities they work with and for, are considered with care. Individuals at work must not be subject to harassment or discrimination, and publicly funded cultural venues should be welcoming to all their communities. Our guidance is intended to support organisations in balancing the vital right of freedom of expression with the need to ensure that they, their staff, and their communities are considered, and kept safe.

We recognise the specific concern that’s been raised on social media around references in the updated relationship framework to individuals, especially artists. Again, to be absolutely clear, we fully respect and defend the rights of individual artists to freedom of expression, political or otherwise. However, in practice, we understand that some individual artists – for example, Artistic Directors – are strongly associated with the organisations for whom they work, and as a result, their personal positions may be taken to be those of the wider organisation. Therefore, if individuals working in public-facing positions in cultural organisations are planning to undertake activity, even in a personal capacity, that might be deemed controversial, the guidance advises that they discuss this with their board, in order to agree a plan to mitigate any risks that might arise. Once again, such decisions are matters for organisations and their boards or leadership groups, not for the Arts Council. The intention of the refreshed relationship framework is not to prevent individuals from expressing their political views, but to support artists and organisations with tools to ensure that this is done in a such a way that it does not result in unintended consequences, or distress for others associated with the organisation.

We recognise the strong reaction to the piece by Arts Professional, and hope that this clarification allays the concerns around it that have been raised. We are also aware that any news article will be unable to capture the full tenor and nuance of any guidance, and that most people who have read the piece will not have read the original material.   We therefore offer the guidance in full here.  We are sorry if we have not been as clear as we might have been in our communication around this issue. We always keep guidance, and communication associated with it, under review and will respond to any feedback to ensure that we are as clear as we can be in what we say.   

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