Arts funding row over sex orientation demands


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April 2, 2008

Arts funding row over sex orientation demands

A production of Kebab

Theatreland will have to give up its bedroom secrets in the quest for funding, under new Arts Council requirements. Organisations applying for grants are being asked to state how many board members are bisexual, homosexual, heterosexual, lesbian or whose inclinations are "not known".

Audrey Roy, the director of grants, said that the council needed to understand who its audience was and to whom its funding was going. "We see diversity as broader than race, ethnicity, faith and disability," she said. Question 22 of the Grants for the Arts forms, relating to sexual orientation, was not compulsory, she added, although the form states that it must be answered.

The question caused anger and bemusement among leading figures of the arts world yesterday. The Oscar-nominated actor Sir Ian McKellen, who is openly gay, said: "It sounds extraordinary. It shouldn't be on a form. It's quite inappropriate."

Vanessa Redgrave, the actress and human rights campaigner, said: "Everyone should put down 'trisexual', whoever you are. Britain has become the world's leading population of trisexuals."

Michael Frayn, the author of the farce Noises Off, suggested boxes to "specify how many members are longsighted or shortsighted, how many wear black socks or brown socks".

Christopher Hampton, whose adaptation of God of Carnage is showing in the West End, said: "It's bureaucracy and political correctness gone mad."

The application form notes that the question is for government purposes only and will not enter into the grant decision, but that claim was contradicted by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport.

Its spokesman said: "We appreciate that, as a responsible public body they need to monitor their overall grant-making programmes. But it is absolutely not the case that sexual orientation monitoring is a government requirement."

Condemnation of the question spanned the arts. Julian Spalding, the former director of galleries and museums in Sheffield, Manchester and Glasgow, said: "I can't see what relevance it's got. It's a horrible invasion into one's personal and private life." He added: "What they like to do in bed is not the Arts Council's business."

Maggi Hambling, the painter who describes herself as "queer", said: "It's insidious, insulting and quite outrageous for the Arts Council to consider anyone's sexual orientation of any kind to be their business. It appears to be somewhat Hitlerian in its suggestion that grants will be given if, among the applicants, there is a nice smattering of dykes and queers."

Nicolas Kent, the artistic director of the Tricycle Theatre in London, said: "This is ridiculous. It has no relevance. The Arts Council is prone to huge overregulation, as seems to be the case with the whole of society. But the Arts Council has caught it very badly. They should advance the arts instead of ticking every box they invent."

Referring to the recent protest over the council's decision to cut the grants to prominent companies, Simon Callow, the gay actor, said: "The Arts Council comedy continues. What is difficult is to divine to what conceivable use they could put this information. I love the presence of a category for the Not Known — a despicable heresy, surely, in 2008?"

Almost a year ago James Purnell, then the Culture Secretary, vowed to relieve arts organisations of the burden of meeting "crude targets" as a condition of funding. Yet the Arts Council's application form also asks about ethnic backgrounds.

The council said that the answers were confidential and exempt from release under the Freedom of Information Act. It said that it does not issue guidelines on how to persuade board members to reveal details of their sex lives.

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