Wednesday, 30 January, 2013
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Last year Carol Lee, a costume designer based in Leeds, took it upon herself to set about Arts Council England after it became clear that the funding monoliths dealings with regards to a project entitled "Artists Taking The Lead" were less than honourable.
In December 2012 Arts Council England issued a report exonerating itself completely of any wrong doing, just like catching a small child with their hand in the cookie jar.
Article19: Can you give us a brief summary of the issue you raised with Arts Council England.
Carol Lee: I make costumes, not for a living, but because I enjoy making costumes, I've done it for about 30 years, one of the local artists that I make [costumes] for, they are usually independent artists, there was a chance remark in March of last year about the Leeds Canvas bid.
I just have a knack for smelling out dodgy situations, and out of interest really, a selfish interest, I started looking up a few things. That's how I got started and I started uncovering all sorts of things which to me didn't seem right.
A couple of months later I posted some details on Facebook and Twitter [I got a call] from Arts Professional, from Liz Hill the Editor, and with her I went into it in more detail. I provided her with all the information and she had [their] legal team check it all out.
We then followed it through until its natural end which was the internal review [carried out by Arts Council England] that was released in December .
Article19: What was the crux of problem?
CL: The main thing was that the Arts Council England did not stick to their own guidelines. [They] have rules and regulations and they broke them repeatedly, everything else was secondary.
Article19: Can you give us an example?
CL: The Artists Taking The Lead Award (the project funded by ACE) stated in their rules that an a council or a university could not apply. They broke that rule.
The second rule was that members of the judging panel had to declare all of their associations [with applicants] but they didn't do that either.
Those were the two main problems that I picked up on. The Arts Council sort of turned it around, trying to get a sympathy vote [if you like} by saying that I was attacking individuals for their involvement which wasn't the case at all.
If the people on these judging committees did not stick to the rules then they [ACE] have to accept that and the criticism of their actions.
Article19: Did you go straight to AP with your information?CL: No, I did it on my own, I approached Tom Riordan CEO of Leeds City Council because most of the information came from the minutes of meetings of his council's task groups.
I told him about this situation and he asked one of his members of staff to look into it. So, they looked into it and he gave me their answers which were all as I expected, they denied everything.
I did the same thing with Nick Ahad from the Yorkshire Post. I gave him the same information and said "look, this is what I think". He wouldn't touch it with a barge pole, he refused to look at anything. The only comment he made was a review of the actual internal review by ACE which was in December.
I [also] contacted Culture Vulture's, Emma Bearman, she said that it was none of her business.
So, basically I had no help whatsoever. people were not interested in the facts. Slowly though I started to get support from individuals. Eventually I had about 80 people, via Facebook, who actually wanted answers from the Arts Council.
I went on the [live chat] with Liz Forgan (ACE's soon to be replaced Chairwoman) and I asked a question about this issue.
She sort of sidelined the question. She said if there was a case to answer then they would answer to it. At that point I emailed her the details and she came back and basically said "you don't know what you're talking about".
For the second [live] chat, ACE actually took off all the details that related to my question [from the transcript]. They put it back on again because Arts Professional noticed so they called them [to ask why].
So, from the time the conversation took place to the report that comes out afterwards they deleted it all and then they they put it all back again because their legal team realised that couldn't delete something that had actually happened.
I also started getting anonymous people calling me and telling me "you're on the right track".
Local artists though, and I can't blame them, were not really interested in standing up to the Arts Council because they have the power to not fund them at all. It's hard enough as it is for artists.
So all of the information that I obtained, and through people at the Arts Council, was confidential, so I know what I'm talking about, I proved my case. The internal review that came out said, sort of, "no, there is nothing to answer but yes you are right about this and right about that" and the other information that I supplied to them they just ignored completely. It was a bit of whitewash but nothing that I didn't expect.Article19: How do you react to Liz Forgan demanding that the government be open and transparent after you experience dealing with this issue?
CL: I don't take anything that any spokesperson from the Arts Council says seriously because if they cannot do the basic things, like following their own guidelines then it's all just words.
Article19: Have you ever applied for funding from ACE?
CL: No and I have no intention of ever doing so, that's why I can talk the way I do. I realise that there is pressure.
I can see that [people] might feel reluctant on a personal level to criticise the Arts Council. I look at it from a point of view that [they] shouldn't have to feel like that. [People] should be able to apply for funding from the Arts Council and know that they can stick to the guidelines and that there would be no comeback if [they have] an opinion on a particular matter that relates to the Arts Council.
I think the ACE has forgotten what they are supposed to be about, they have lost their way. They do lots of good stuff but there's a lot of stuff that they really need to look at.
Article19: You say that you expected the outcome, so why did you want to push the investigation?
CL: I think it's sort of a selfish pass time. I enjoy investigative journalism and reporting. It doesn't matter what it is, it just so happened that this was the Arts Council and it cam along and I thought, this doesn't look right.
So I've proved my case to myself. I'm quite hard on myself as far as getting evidence is concerned, if I can't prove it 100% then I leave it out. There is a lot of stuff that I didn't even mention because I couldn't actually prove it.
I was told by a person [that I won't name] exactly what the report [from Arts Council] would contain and it was almost word for word, so I knew what to expect even before it came out. I feel really sad that a public organisation like the Arts Council cannot stick to its own rules and regulations because they [actually] have really good rules and regulations but they break them all the time.
If you're an independent artist and you go exactly by the rules as stated in their guidelines, you're not going to get any funding because your not massaging the egos of the personalities that are involved in the funding body.
You have to be prepared to fawn and compliment [them] on social media.
I think that all of this is a great shame because we are losing a lot of real art because what is being funded is things that have been funded in the past. Big organisations, safe bets. Anything creative doesn't have much of chance of getting funding .