Editor’s View: Don’t kick the Arts Council for funding Emma Rice

Emma Rice has been appointed artistic director at Shakespeare's Globe. Steve Tanner Emma Rice. Photo: Steve Tanner
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You have to feel for Emma Rice.

She’s had a pretty rough time as artistic director of Shakespeare’s Globe and must have been looking forward to winding down quietly following the announcement that Michelle Terry would succeed her in the role.

Rice had announced her next plans – a new company called Wise Children based in the South West that would create touring work. It would also run a training and apprenticeship scheme and look to diversify audiences.

So far, so good.

And then, the company made a small mistake. The first announcement about its work was a partnership with the Old Vic in London.

People questioned whether the company would be based in the South West and then – after a hyperbolic column in Arts Professional that described the funding decision as “everything that is wrong with arts funding” and a follow-up in the Guardian – Twitter erupted.

But here’s the thing. The outrage is confected. There is nothing to see here.

This is the Arts Council acting in precisely the way the sector has demanded it act for some time. Backing talent. Backing artists.

There are two complaints. The first is that the company won’t really be based in the South West. This is so clearly rubbish – Rice is still based in the South West despite running the Globe – that it doesn’t even bear basic scrutiny.

The second is that the Arts Council has behaved improperly by giving funding to an untried and untested company. But Rice is not untried and untested – she has an enviable track record of creating work that plays to large audiences around the UK. Strategically, the funding makes sense. There is a problem with mid-scale touring and ACE has clearly made addressing this a priority at this funding round.

Imagine the opposite scenario: Rice is homeless after leaving the Globe and wants to set up a new touring company – delivering a number of ACE’s stated key objectives – but ACE rejects her for purely bureaucratic reasons and she has to wait four years to reapply. People would call this ridiculous. Rightly.

The Arts Council should not be a cash machine, preserving the status quo. It should make decisions and back the talent it believes in, especially talent offering to deliver the objectives the funding body has outlined.

ACE is not perfect. It makes mistakes and occasionally during its history it has deserved a good kicking. But not over this.