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Photofusion loses Arts Council funding

Arts Council England cuts funding to Photofusion after 30 years as it announces its 2015-18 investment plan

London-based photography centre Photofusion has had its Arts Council England funding cut. The news emerged last week as ACE announced its investment strategy for the next three years.

In a statement to BJP, a spokesperson for the south London gallery and photography centre confirmed the cut to its funding, commenting: “Photofusion, London’s educational centre, gallery and photography resource for over three decades, has received notice from Arts Council England that its NPO [National Portfolio of arts Organisations] status and its annual revenue grant will be cut entirely from March 2015.”

In the same statement, Dr Geof Rayner, chair of Photofusion, commented on the potential impact of the decision: “Like any business organisation – even a non-profit one like Photofusion – the withdrawal of critical investment throws the organisation into uncertainty.

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“Arts Council England’s decision to cut Photofusion from its National Portfolio strikes at the heart of London’s creative arts and education sector,” Rayner added. “The decision has come as a shock, but over the past 30 years Photofusion has survived a number of major economic recessions and the organisation’s objective is to continue with its long-term commitments. Everyone in the organisation is committed to keeping high levels of arts provision and services for our 700 members, partners, clients and crucial outreach programmes while supporting other cultural organisations and local youth agencies.”

Speaking on the phone to BJP, Peter Heslip, director of visual arts at ACE, said: “We had some tough decisions to make and we had incredible levels of competition for our funds. Photofusion did meet the criteria we set, but there were other applications we considered to be stronger. We value the contribution Photofusion has made over the past two years in the existing National Portfolio funding period, and we will be exploring with the management and trustees what other options might be available to them in terms of Arts Council funding in the coming period.”

Photofusion has received £150,893 from ACE every year since 2012.

The 2015-18 National Portfolio is made up 670 arts organisations, with 46 new organisations joining and 58 leaving, according to ACE. Each year, £340m will be invested into the National Portfolio, which covers a broad spectrum of arts, including dance, literature, festivals and visual arts; 122 visual arts organisations are included in the 2015-18 Portfolio, from major regional galleries to small artist-led projects, studios and production agencies.

Of the photography-focused organisations in the National Portfolio, London-based Autograph ABP is one of the biggest winners, receiving £2,100,000 from ACE. “Autograph has had a strong track record with their national and international work,” Heslip commented. “We look forward to seeing what they’ll do in the next period.”

Among the other photography-specific organisations to have benefited are: Impressions Gallery in Yorkshire, which will receive £606,843; Open Eye Gallery in Liverpool (£576,903); Photoworks in Brighton (£804,945); and Manchester-based Redeye Photography Network (£263,763). The Photographers’ Gallery remains part of the National Portfolio, but has had its funding reduced to £2,706,796 from £2,711,167.

“Photography is a popular art form, and I would say it’s ubiquitously represented across the National Portfolio in that, if you go to most of our galleries in any given year, you will see at least one exhibition featuring photography,” said Heslip. “It’s popular with audiences, and is relevant if not more relevant than ever.”

Newcastle-upon-Tyne’s Side Gallery, which lost its entire ACE funding in 2011, was again unsuccessful in its bid to become part of the National Portfolio, but film and photography collective Amber, of which Side Gallery is a part, has been awarded £1.1m from the Heritage Lottery Fund for a three-year project that involves the redevelopment of the gallery on Newcastle’s Quayside.

Commenting on how Arts Council funding is distributed, Heslip said: “We have a two-stage process. The first is about assessing individual applications, and the second [involves] balancing the total National Portfolio. We have a number of guidelines we consider [when allocating funding]: artform, geographic spread, the size and type of organisation, diversity (in terms of audiences, for example), and the risk posed to public funding – whether the organisation is having financial trouble or with its board, for example. So it is about taking a view across all of the above.”

Several organisations have expressed concern about the recent funding announcements, including The Royal Photographic Society. In an email to BJP, RPS director general Michael Pritchard said: “The RPS regrets the loss of funding for Photofusion, which provides a valuable resource for London, and ACE should explain the rationale behind its decision. Overall, most photography organisations have seen a funding decrease in real terms but RPS does welcome the significant increases for Autograph ABP and Focal Point Gallery.”

Focal Point Gallery, which includes photography in its programming, will receive £559,152, according to figures released by ACE. The gallery has recently appointed a new director, Joe Hill, and moved to new premises in Southend-on-Sea. “We’re really thrilled about Focal Point Gallery’s new space,” commented Heslip. “It has great leadership and has curated some really excellent programmes.”

Speaking more generally about Arts Council funding to the visual arts, Heslip commented on revenue streams, which include the ACE’s Lottery-funded grant programme and Strategic touring programme.

“We use lots of different [revenue] sources to support photographers,” said Heslip. “Photography-based projects do really well on grants for the arts. Since April 2012 we’ve made 289 grants to projects with a photography element, totalling £4.3m; and around 129 grants have been made to others that are purely [about] photography, amounting to more than £1.7m. We fund organisations that are outside of the portfolio, such as the Grain photography project at the Library of Birmingham, and Four Corners gallery in London… and through our Strategic touring programme, we’ve funded Nottingham-based New Art Exchange to do a touring project with emerging photographers, Multistory in West Bromwich and The Caravan Gallery [featured in BJP, May 2014]; so I’d say, generally, we fund a lot through grants for the arts.”

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