Arts Council England’s head honcho Alan Davey was answering questions on The Guardian’s Culture Cuts blog this lunchtime, so we took the opportunity to ask why they’d decided, apparently, to exclude an entire artform - animation - from their new ‘Portfolio’ of funded organisations.
Apparently we were wrong - animation is there, Alan said. There are ‘galleries and moving image companies such as Film London (FLAMIN), Lux and Film and Video Umbrella cover animation as part of their work.’
[I think it’s worth noticing the use of the term ‘companies’. It’s what performing arts organisations call themselves.]
Alan, or whoever was feeding him the answer, is quite simply wrong on that one. Of course there is crossover with the work of arts organisations working in the moving image - but I’m sure that not one of those three organisations (and I know them very well) would lay claim to substantially supporting 'animation'. And when they do, their focus is exclusively on work by visual artists for a visual arts context.
The two ‘animation’ focused organisations that the Arts Council has supported for many years - onedotzero and Animate Projects - engage with a very different crowd and practice. onedotzero’s exporation of ‘new forms and hybrids of moving image’ has been a vital platform for creative practice beyond the boundaries of ‘visual arts’ practice, and at Animate Projects we crisscross those boundaries all the time.
We certainly work with ‘visual artists’, but usually to support them to work in new ways, for new contexts. And more commonly we work with people who work specifically within 'animation'.
It’s that support that is now missing - completely - from the new Portfolio - and therefore, from the Arts Council’s focus. Animate Projects and onedotzero have been taken out, and there's nothing that replaces them. Funds may be available through Grants for the arts, but that’s for projects - it simply won’t fund us to do much of what we do.
There is a depressing conservatism about the Arts Council’s decisions. Many digital/media organisations are being cut, and the Arts Council’s emphasis is on the ‘delivery’ potential of digital, as opposed to its creative potential. Their new initiative - Building Digital Capacity for the Arts - seems to be mainly about performing arts companies acquiring production skills to post trailers online.
We have regularly complained to the Arts Council about the lack of overview - their signal failure to develop an effective strategy for moving image, animation in particular, and digital work more generally. So that, consequently, the development of animation and its talent base has no context, no strategy, no critical mass and no nurturing.
And their response is to agree that they don’t have a specific strategy on moving image, animation and/or digital work. 'Just as there are no specific strategies for other visual arts sub art forms such as photography, publishing or live art.'
‘Sub art form’ feels a bit loaded to me. But anyway, unlike those other ‘sub forms', animation is not simply theirs not to have a strategy for. UK Film Council had been lax too - but one would have thought the two organisations might have had a conversation about animation. At some point.
They tell us that ‘the work [we] do is valued and well respected across the sector.’ That will be the ‘visual arts’ sector. We work with artists, but much of the animation we’re talking about is made by a different kind of talent - people who call themselves animators or filmmakers or graphic designers or ceramicists.. people who have a range of different histories, traditions, contexts, and practice, and who reach different audiences.
We’re pleased that Animate Projects has funding to enable us to deliver a programme of online exhibition for the coming year, and we hope to use that time to advocate more strongly - with others - for recognition of the importance and value of animation, and for a bit more respect for its audience.