Our meeting with Arts Council England and the BFI, December 2015

We sent our letter to Arts Council England and BFI in July 2015. Amanda Nevill (CEO, BFI) responded immediately to say they’d get right on it, and a while later, we got a letter in the post from Darren Henley (CEO, ACE), saying they’d try and arrange a meeting, which they later managed to do.

They invited a small group of AAUK members to ACE’s headquarters in London on 8 December 2015. We were: Abigail Addison, Paul Bush, Emma Calder, Jonathan Hodgson, and Gary Thomas.

We met with: Peter Heslip (Director, Visual Arts & London, ACE), Anna Mandlik (Senior Relationship Manager, Visual Arts, ACE), Paul Glinkowski (Senior Officer, Creative Media, ACE), and Ben Roberts (Director, BFI Film Fund).

At the meeting, we got an outline of how the BFI’s support of animation has substantially increased in the last couple of years, including its Vision Awards to animation studios and development of features, though it was acknowledged that this support wasn’t addressing our specific concerns for independent work and short animation. The BFI’s focus seems likely to remain on development and support of feature length films.

ACE said that they received only a small number of applications to Grants for the arts for animation projects. We noted that there was a lack of clarity and conflicting statements from ACE about its remit. They told us that they were supporting animation through their Random Acts Network. We pointed out that there was that there is no obligation for the RAN organisations to support animation, and little indication that the Network Centres intended to support animation substantially, given their expertise. We reminded ACE that RAB funding is for 16-24 year olds, and noted that this £3million Lottery funding replaced ACE support for Random Acts commissioning that had previously supported professional animators and producers.

Following the meeting, ACE and BFI have agreed the following action points:

BFI will:

  • define its remit and responsibilities with regards to animation, and will do this as part of Film Forever 2 (April 2017)
  • do some further informal sector consultation as part of the wider Film Forever 2 consultation
  • will consider its ongoing support for animation as part of Film Forever 2.

Arts Council England will:

  • define its remit and responsibilities with regards to animation
  • do some sector consultation with animation practitioners and organisations (as part of its stakeholder consultation in 2016) in order to identify the needs of the sector
  • explore how they can support animation through our existing funds, namely Grants for the arts.

We’ve asked ACE if they could indicate what the timetable would be for their actions, or when they might have more detail of when and how those things will happen.

At the meeting we didn’t get a chance to say much ourselves, and it was disappointing that we couldn’t have any discussion of the broader points we raised in our letter: about the cultural and economic importance and value of independent animation.

In 2013, ACE and BFI had agreed on a joint objective ‘to develop a policy position for animation in England and the UK, providing policy clarity and funding information to artists, filmmakers and producers working in animation.’ They had planned ‘to undertake joint research and consultation to understand the animation ecology across film and arts and publish our policy position.’

At the meeting, it was explained that this won’t be happening because developing a policy for animation is against ACE policy. We suggested that they might instead develop a strategy to support animation. We noted that ACE had invested in a strategic review of puppetry that had led to the setting up of the Puppetry Development Consortium, and that ACE was investing £1,950,000 by way of a three year commissioned grant to bring together four dance organisations together to create a unified ‘go-to industry body’.

Update: Arts Council England’s commitment to animation

To recap…back in 2011, in one of her webchats, Liz Forgan, then Chair of Arts Council England, answered an AAUK query about their support for animation. She told us they were having discussions about an ACE/BFI partnership “as work crosses over… particularly in animation…”. And last November we were very pleased when ACE Chief Executive, Alan Davey, said (in his webchat) that the Arts Council is “committed to supporting animation” and that they would work together with the BFI “to further support animators in both development, production, networking and knowledge sharing in 2014/15”.

He promised that more details would follow in early 2014, but things went a bit quiet…so in August we asked Alan for an update. He told us that ACE continues to be engaged in detailed conversations with the BFI but that a discussion about animation has yet to take place and that it is now not going to happen until 2015/16. That’s disappointing, but could be simply because it’s part of much bigger discussions, rather than animation falling off their agenda.

At least a partnership finally exists and ACE has shared with us their new ACE/BFI Public Value Agreement, to run from 2013–2017, which recognises that the two organisations share “a strong commitment to increasing public engagement in culture, supporting excellence, developing creative talent and contributing to the vibrancy of the UK’s creative economy”.

ACE tells us that initially an Action Plan was being developed alongside the Agreement, but they found that, given “the range and scale of work on which [they] could focus, more work was needed to produce a jointly agreed and targeted action plan”. So, the first year of the partnership will be a foundation year “to allow our teams to become more familiar with each other’s activities and plans and use 2014/15 to scope a programme of work with the BFI to cover 2015-17”.

Again, whilst this delay might be frustrating, it could be sensible: the draft plans were seriously ambitious, and it will be important to get right things right. For film and moving image generally, they intend to “map the territory… increase public engagement” and to set out “to support innovation in creative talent, content, audience engagement and business models across our sectors”, with a new fund and a professional skills development and mentoring programme to support new creative media, art and film innovation”. For animation specifically, the draft plan stated their intention “to develop a policy position for animation in England and the UK, providing policy clarity and funding information to artists, filmmakers and producers working in animation” and committed “to undertake joint research and consultation to understand the animation ecology across film and arts and publish our policy position”.

So it seems, overall, a positive and steady step in the right direction. We will continue to monitor how this progresses and keep the Alliance informed!

[We’re not aware that Arts Council England has consulted anyone in the sector. If they’ve been in touch with any members, we’d love to hear about the discussions.]

You can read the ACE BFI Public Value Agreement here (this version has the Action Plan that was shelved before the agreement was signed): Final Draft BFI-ACE PVP