Art Council England accused of threatening free speech

London (Great Britain). In January, Art Council England (ACE), the national agency for culture, changed the rules of its “relational framework” with its partners. From now on, the declarations “openly political or militant” or anything that poses a risk to the reputation of a funded venue could result in withdrawal of funding.

Passing unnoticed, these changes were relayed by an article inProfessional Arts which provoked strong reactions. The artistic community saw it as an attack on freedom of expression. Some have even interpreted these changes in relation to artists’ comments regarding the war in Gaza. “I am an artist who has organized numerous group and solo exhibitions in ACE-funded spaces and I am outraged by this decision, posted on Instagram the artist Sam Keogh, who took a stand in favor of Palestine. It’s censorship. And this is happening in the middle of a genocide. »

Misunderstood intentions or censorship?

Faced with these strong reactions, the ACE announced in mid-February its desire to modify “certain formulations” to better explain its initial intention. Laura Dyer, deputy chief executive of the ACE, told the BBC that the agency defends artists’ freedom of expression, but that this principle posed challenges for organizations funded by the agency. Some of them would have highlighted difficulties linked to the polarization of points of view, particularly on social networks. Laura Dyer explains that the objective is not to censor artists but to offer solutions to their partners in the event of polarized reactions, for the well-being of staff and the public.

However, the artistic community criticizes the substance of the reform and not its presentation. The announcement of a reformulation only served to heat up tempers. “The threat to artistic freedom is rarely intentional in a democratic society, commented Denise Fahmy, co-director of Freedom in the Arts, an artist advocacy lobby. Censorship creeps in through the lack of protection of artistic freedom. »

The ACE is responsible for the redistribution of 543 million pounds (634 million €) of public money and 253 million pounds (295 million €) from the National Lottery Fund.

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