Is the arts council funding a gender divide?

Arts Council England rewarded many choreographers with funding in its 2015 settlement.

Contemporary dance artists such as Akram Khan, who received a 122% funding boost to over £500,000 a year, and Matthew Bourne, who has received £1.2 million for his company’s efforts with shows such as the Lord of The Flies, are at the forefront of commissioning.

Although female choreographers receive funds – such as Jasmin Vardimon, who received £3 million to help her finance a new international dance hub in Kent – it seems the ratio favours males.

Tonic Theatre are a company that work towards a greater gender equality in theatres across the country. Research from Tonic Theatre shows that imbalance is becoming more of a problem. Women account for only 37% of artistic directors of the 179 theatres that get core funding from the Arts Council. Although this relates to theatres in general (drama, plays, musicals, dance performances etc.), the trend can be compared to dance-only theatres such as Sadler’s Wells.

Dancers, choreographers and practitioners have been asking whether the Arts Council is funding gender imbalance.

When Gender in Dance asked the Arts Council this question, they evaded it and tweeted instead: “It’s a complex issue and we’re talking to organisations and artists about it. The picture can change depending on the place and size of an organisation.”

In 2009, ACE began a new scheme to tackle gender equality in the art sector. “Our vision for gender equality is for it to be driven by transformative and lasting work, which will bring about change within our organisation and in the arts sector.

“It is important that gender equality becomes a core part of the Arts Council and making it so will be a key long-term component of the action plan, which requires committed leadership and appropriate deployment of resources in order to bring about change.”

Six years later, only small steps have been taken as gender equality and diversity remained a key issue in the Arts Council’s speech in December last year.

When will proper action be taken? The Arts Council fundamentally have the power in their hands to request the companies they fund to be more balanced, in recognising gender in the ways they operate, employ and hire dancers for example.

Perhaps gender imbalance is an accident from the way ACE commission and fund dance companies. The bgroup dance company, directed by Ben Wright, had their funding request declined twice because of the ‘competition for funds’. Currently, the Arts Council funds 32 major dance related NPOs (National Portfolio Organisations). Of the 32, 15 have seen their funding cut between 2011 and 2015.

Referring back to the colossal amount of commissions offered to companies such as Matthew Bourne’s New Adventures, and Jasmin Vardimon, the imbalance of male-female directed companies receiving funds could point to the fact that there are more male choreographers in the industry in general. Therefore, even when female directors and choreographers receive funding, they remain outnumbered by male choreographers. Of the 32 NPOs, over a half are directed by men, while under a third are directed by women.

It is a shame the Arts Council, who claim to represent the artistic and expressive sector, refuse to express the desire to clarify these issues.

DISCLAIMER: Arts Council England could not comment at the time this article was written.

Watch Peter Bazalgette, Arts Council chair, deliver his speech about the organisation’s approach to diversity

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