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Revealed: ACE risk guidelines formulated in relation to Israel-Gaza

Equity has uncovered Arts Council England’s (ACE) warning that “political statements” could break funding agreements was formulated in relation to the Israel-Gaza conflict

A Freedom of Information (FOI) request submitted by Equity has revealed that Arts Council England’s (ACE) warning that “political statements” could break funding agreements was formulated in relation to the Israel-Gaza conflict.

The FOI reveals that the controversial ACE guidance was discussed in a meeting between ACE and the Department for Culture Media & Sport on 12 December 2023 during an agenda item to discuss ‘Reputational risk relating to Israel-Gaza conflict’. ACE had previously met with Equity and denied that the guidance related to the conflict in Gaza. 

Equity raised concerns when the ACE guidance was issued in February this year that its effect for funded organisations would be to censor the work that they produce and present. The guidance also opened the door to silencing artists both on stage and in their personal lives - especially those working in the activist or political space.

The revelation that the guidance was formulated in relation to the Israel/Gaza conflict, whilst not surprising, is deeply troubling for artistic freedom and expression. The FOI also raises questions about Arts Council decisions being subject to political pressure from the Westminster government.

The issue of artistic censorship is to be discussed at Equity Conference, beginning Saturday 18 May, when Equity's Race Equality Committee will put forward a motion calling on the union to press national arts funding bodies to ensure artists are allowed full range of political expression.

Commenting, Paul W Fleming, General Secretary of Equity said: “We have been clear to the Arts Council that their slide into politicisation is leading to censorship of artists. The double standards over the conflict in Gaza is just one manifestation – whether it be Nadine Dorries gutting culture for working class Londoners by dictat, or requirements to thank the government for money from the COVID-era Cultural Recovery Fund – public funding of the arts in this country has lost its way. 

"It is embarrassing for the Arts Council that they have said to the union directly that the guidance had nothing to do with the conflict – our FOI shows this to be inaccurate. We have to see a commitment to reform of the Arts Council to restore its independence, its funding – and change its senior personnel.” 

Equity’s Race Equality Committee commented: “Following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Arts Council England affirmed support for creatives who show “solidarity with our colleagues in Ukraine” and later emphasised that the culture sector could “play an important role in putting pressure on the Putin regime to end the invasion of Ukraine”.

“This is in stark contrast to ACE’s actions following the events in Israel and Gaza, when its publication of guidelines warning arts organisations that “political statements” could break funding agreements had a chilling effect on the whole industry. Now, evidence uncovered by Equity of a meeting between ACE and DCMS shows that the guidelines on ‘reputational risk’ were formulated in response to the Israel-Gaza war. The question of political interference is also concerning, particularly as the Government is currently carrying out a full-scale review of ACE.

“The cancellation and deplatforming of work by Palestinian artists has shown that the creation of art about the very existence of Global Majority artists and their assertion of their human rights can be deemed ‘political’. Within this context, our right to freedom of expression and the creation of art free from government interference is more urgent than ever. The cultural sector and its workers cannot be censored in a way that is anathema in a free and fair society.”


Full Text of FOI submitted by Equity and response from ACE

Equity's Freedom of Information request: 
The minutes of any and all meetings between Arts Council England and the Department for Culture, Media and Sport which took place between November 2023 and March 2024 inclusive.

Clarification provided:
Could we please narrow the timeline to December 2023 – February 2024.
We are looking for minutes of discussions regarding Arts Council England’s ‘reputational harm’ guidelines, which were published in March 2024.

ACE's Response: We have conducted a search of our records for the period November 2023 to March 2024 (incorporating the revised timeframe of December 2023 to February 2024) and have identified one reference to the Relationship Framework guidance in minutes of meetings between Arts Council England and the Department for Culture Media & Sport that occurred within the same period. We have extracted the information relevant to your request and have included it below.

Meeting title: ACE/DCMS Liaison Meeting
Date: 12 December 2023
Agenda Item: Reputational risk relating to Israel/Gaza conflict:
Relevant text:
[Initials of ACE staff member 1] confirmed consistency of approach piece will be coming from [Name of ACE staff member 2] soon.

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