Response to Arts Council England (ACE) announcement of financial Covid-19 support for artists, creative practitioners and freelancers, 24 March 2020
ACE announced a package of support for artists, and art organisations, on Tuesday 24th March 2020. At first glance this might seem like a generous gesture of £160 million. However, more than half the funding, £90 million, will go to large National Portfolio Organisations, and only £50 million to all other organisations. Individual artists can apply for £2,500 via a selection process. According to official estimates, there were approximately 60,000 practicing artists in the UK in 2019. The funds being made available would mean that just a very small fraction of these, 8,000, would be able to benefit from this selective process and we would be competing with other creative workers for this tiny pot of money.
There is an additional caveat by ACE - £4million of the £20 million allocated to artists and creative practitioners will be made available “for grants to benevolent funds targeted at other cultural workers” which will reduce the number of artists who are supported even further. The future is scary and uncertain, but it seems likely that many of us will spend months unable to engage in paid work and £2,500 is a very small drop in the ocean to cover financial hardship such as debts, loss of working space or home. that we may face.
Artists are encouraged to apply for the £2,500 only if they have a, “track record in publicly funded culture” whatever that means. This selection process smacks of gatekeeping which has been a consistent complaint levelled towards ACE by our members. It entrenches the unequal and competitive nature of the arts sector. There is a lack of engagement with less wealthy artists in making the decisions behind this funding proposal. As the union for visual artists in England, AUE were not consulted at all about it, despite the claim by ACE that it was “informed by evidence collected from all parts of the sector since we became aware of the Covid-19 risk.”
This reflects the experiences of working-class artists in a sector dominated predominantly by middle and upper-class white men. ACE has recognised the need for more diversity in the arts, but needs much more thorough reform in order to achieve greater equality. It is worth noting also that this funding package comes from ACE money that would have been used to support a few artists and more particularly large organisations in the future. In that sense, it doesn’t really offer us anything additional. “This funding has come from reallocation of National Lottery Project Grants, Developing Your Creative Practice and our Development Funds for the 2020-21 period, and uses up almost all of our reserves.”
There is an acknowledgement from ACE that artists are important and needed to support people in this time of crisis and they are calling for us to think of creative ideas to help keep people occupied “developing creative responses to the Covid-19 crisis, to help buoy the public for its duration.” But without any real funding to back that up. AUE supporter Maggie Parker states, “I can see all this free content leading to even more destitution amongst artists in the future.” We really need a huge culture change where artists are valued in real terms for their work and no longer asked to work for free.
Much more is needed to help self-employed artists and small arts organisations whose work and personal life have been adversely affected by the Coronavirus. Our employment and finances are often precarious and sporadic and so won’t be adequately compensated for by the measures so far suggested to support the self-employed. We need a basic income and the payment of basic services including rent and studio rents, if we are to survive this.
Response to ACE announce of financial Covid-19 - 24,3,20