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Arts Council Chair calls for defence of the arms-length principle

13 November 2009


Dame Liz Forgan, Chair of Arts Council England, has called for the arms-length principle, which keeps the Arts Council independent of government, to be upheld.

In a speech at the Theatrical Management Association’s Ambitions for the New Age conference yesterday (12 November 2009),  Liz Forgan discussed the importance of the arm-length principle  and how it had kept the arts free from political interference for over 60 years.

She said:

“Arms length (is a) principle by which government, national and local, contributes to the support of artists and the arts through a mechanism that is separate from day to day party politics.  It is a principle which was first articulated by Keynes in 1946 and which has served us all, politicians and artists, very well since.”

“It keeps the arts free of political interference in the content and nature of creative expression.  It protects politicians from being held accountable for the occasionally outrageous, offensive or otherwise troublesome work of artists.”

“It is looked at jealously by Artists in some countries that do not have these arrangements…(and) is seen as an emblem of good practice all over the world.”

The speech celebrated the recent period of “extraordinary creativity in English theatre”, with the funding mix of public, private and earned income making sure artistic quality was being maintained through the recession.

Liz Forgan attributed the continued box office success of theatre to the “quality and range” of work on offer and cited the fact that people were willing to spend their “hard earned money on live theatre in a recession” as evidence that they were “really getting something they value.”

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Notes to editors

1. Arts Council England works to get great art to everyone by championing, developing and investing in artistic experiences that enrich people’s lives.

As the national development agency for the arts, we support a range of artistic activities from theatre to music, literature to dance, photography to digital art, and carnival to crafts.

Great art inspires us, brings us together and teaches us about ourselves, and the world around us. In short, it makes life better.

Between 2008 and 2011, we will invest £1.3 billion of public money from government and a further £0.3 billion from the National Lottery to create these experiences for as many people as possible across the country.