31 March 2011

de-animation - Arts Council England's new Portfolio

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.


  1. 'Animation' is an unsatisfying metaterm for a wide range of moving arts practice, and its understanding and attendant corpi of works varies widely within arts communities (and funding bodies). The arts economies are beginning to understand, and exhibit, animation, but this is currently quite limited to established 'artists' incorporating animation in their practice, to a few 'usual suspects' or to more popular forms. (Pixar, Disney et al) The upcoming Barbican WATCH ME MOVE is an exception to this.

    Not all animation is art, but there is a great deal that fits in the creative and cultural economies, and that provides audiences with remarkable access to 'worlds' not representable in other media. Animation is also pervasive across multiple platforms and uses, from Sci-tech and bio-modelling, to architecture, web interfaces, distance learning, so its impact on and contribution to the economy is much larger than often assumed.

    It's relevant to note that in 2002, an initiative, the Animation Network, was started by a group including Phil Mulloy, Vera Neubauer, myself (Suzanne Buchan) and a number of independent UK animators, to address the lack of the word 'animation' in the UK Film Council's mandate. This was already the case in 2003. (see

    It offered a clear view of the success of animation in UK and international culture, recent (2003) developments, consequences and solutions. To my knowledge we did not receive a satisfying reply.

    In light of Gary's / animate project's 'de-animation' I would like to re-ignite this debate, and with it the Animation Network, and will be contacting a number of key figures - artists, producers, academics, distributors and others to build a constituency. A link should appear at the bottom of this comment, so please get in touch if you would like to be involved. This could obviously be opened up to include the 'sub-arts' Gary mentioned.

    It seems a return to 'grass roots' in the current climate is necessary, and if we can raise a large and articulate enough voice, and develop a form of strategy, at very least we could engender a new sense of community, even if it doesn't generate short-term government response.

  2. Artist and researcher Simon Biggs commented on the CRUMB list: This blog demonstrates what a bankrupt term art has become. Is animation art, is that what it takes to be valued as creative practice? Does it matter? It does to the Arts Council but to many creative practitioners, working across diverse sectors, the question of whether it is art or not has become irrelevant. There are more important issues. Let's disassemble theterm art and concentrate on creativity, putting aside the art world's interests - a rather corrupt bourgeois scene that gets a kick out of navel gazing. Real creativity is too important for the arts so why do we want the Arts Council's blessing? The money, yes - but the value system ACE represents should be history.


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