I do not. In fact, I see it as part of an increasingly short and slippery slope towards the erosion of arms’ length funding. The idea has always been that the government supplies a certain amount of money via the taxpayer to the Arts Council and they then make the decision about how it should be distributed. Those theatres and arts organisations who become regularly funded and a National Portfolio Organisation already display an ACE logo on their work and often it has been a badge worn with pride. So, I don’t see why the government should expect to get or get an extra thank you in the form of branding on posters and programmes. The money originates from the taxpayer and not all taxpayers support the government.
Governments have always wanted to meddle in arts funding, and they have certainly done so over the years. The Blair government made its priorities clear (although because that was at a time of increased arts funding it was perhaps less noticeable) and there have been plenty of examples of the diversion of funds, from the millennium celebrations to the Olympics.
But the current government is going further, telling ACE where the money it receives should be spent. Now it is perfectly possible to accept that there are deep-seated historical funding inequities that have seen London benefit over the regions, and which are in urgent need of being righted, and at the same time to think that it is not the government’s role to decide how monies allocated to ACE should be spent. Particularly when the government’s priorities will be more about supporting its own agendas and less about supporting and creating a more equitable arts ecology.
Production image from An Unfinished Man at The Yard, just one of the many productions made possible with ACE funding. Photo by Camilla Greenwell.
It is a short step from this to abolishing ACE entirely and getting the DCMS to directly decide who does and who does not get funding. Which I think we can be confident will not include projects and productions and organisations which might in any way be critical of the government.
Government logos and branding are part of this slippery slope. Back during the height of the pandemic when arts organisations started to receive bailout monies it was noticeable that in some cases the very same people who in the morning were criticising government handling of the crisis and its inaction over the arts were, in the afternoon, thanking the same government because they had received funding and public thanks of the government was part of their agreements. It is a compromising position for artists and arts organisations to find themselves in and one that makes it harder to speak out.
I’d very happily see something on posters and programmes pointing out that “all taxpayers paid for this piece of art”, but being obliged to thank the government or acknowledge it seems to me to be part of a government ploy to take greater control over arts funding and reduce the role of ACE. ACE is not flawless in its decision making, but if it’s a question of ACE or Nadine Dorries making the decisions about where funding should go, I know who I’d choose.
Cover image of some of the conditional logos currently in use. To find out more about Arts Council England, please visit their website.