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Arts Council and Emma Rice address controversy over Wise Children funding

Emma Rice has been appointed artistic director at Shakespeare's Globe. Steve Tanner Emma Rice. Photo: Steve Tanner
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Emma Rice and Arts Council England have “emphatically rejected” claims that almost £2 million of funding for Rice’s new company Wise Children is “everything that’s wrong with the arts”.

In June, the newly formed company Wise Children was allocated £475,000 per year from 2018 to 2022 in the Arts Council’s national portfolio funding, as a South West-based company.

However, a column on industry website Arts Professional accused the Arts Council of “twisting every rule imaginable to give someone £2 million because they think she deserves it”.

Writer Christy Romer said: “There are, and always have been, two sets of rules: one for those with friends at the Arts Council, and one for those without.”

He also expressed concerns that Wise Children claimed to be based in the South West, “forming part of the big splash the national funder made about investing £170 million more outside of London”, but will be resident at London’s Old Vic Theatre.

Wise Children was previously registered with Companies House at the address of an accountancy firm in London, but this has now been changed to an address in Bristol.

Rice strongly defended the funding decision in a blog on Wise Children’s website, saying: “Wise Children is a South West company. I have lived and worked in the South West for 25 years and currently live in Bristol.

“Where we eventually put down our bags and find a physical base is to be discovered over the coming years, but one thing is sure – it is South West all the way. That has never been in doubt.”

She added: “All national touring companies seek a London home for their work, and Wise Children has been fortunate to find this key relationship. The Old Vic in London has announced us as a company-in-residence when we are in London. Thank you, Old Vic for your belief, bravery and fierce independent spirit.”

Similarly, in a statement, the Arts Council said that it “emphatically rejects the unsubstantiated allegation made in an Arts Professional article that there are different rules for applicants to our funding programmes according to how well-known they might be to Arts Council staff”.

“We have in place a rigorous and equitable application and assessment process that applies across the organisation. It is open, accountable, auditable and transparent,” it added.

The Arts Council also described Rice as “one of the most inspirational theatremakers working in the UK today” and said that Wise Children’s residency at the Old Vic was not an aspect of its Arts Council funding.

Rice will step down as artistic director of Shakespeare’s Globe in April 2018, following a decision by the venue’s board to discontinue the use of artificial sound and lighting, which has characterised Rice’s work.

Last week it was announced that actor Michelle Terry would take up the post.

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