Your article (‘Olympian struggle for fair play’ – Issue 257, September 2012) about the selection of Yorkshire’s Cultural Olympiad commission omits details of the procedures in place to ensure the independence of the selection panel, but more importantly it promotes unfounded but serious allegations of corruption and bias against a volunteer selection panel of Yorkshire artists, curators and producers.
This use of an independent panel was a very positive departure for the Arts Council, bringing the direct voice of artists into the decision making for ‘Artists taking the lead’ commissions. The UK Arts Councils consulted with the arts sector about the design of that process, including how the winning bids would be selected. Selection panels across the country were then appointed through an open call for expressions of interest. Individuals were appointed to join representatives of the Arts Council and LOCOG to create a diverse local panel with a range of complementary expertise. I was the Arts Council representative on the Yorkshire panel.
It is extensive and common practice throughout the public sector, and certainly within the Arts Council, for individuals to declare any ‘interests’ that would prohibit them from being involved in any decision (specifically if they would benefit financially from it). This is of course vitally important as the money comes from tax-payers or Lottery players. These procedures were followed fully for the Yorkshire panel and we have provided documentation evidencing it. People are of course not required, as the article seems to propose, to extend this to identify all the interests of other people they may be connected to. By the law of six degrees of separation, that would soon prevent anyone making a decision on anything.
One or more panel members had some relationship, or knowledge or connection with at least half of the 133 Yorkshire applicants. At least three of the five shortlisted applications also fell into this category, but so did countless more that failed to make the final five. The final five each received a development award in advance of a final presentation to the panel. The panel then spent many hours arguing and debating the final choice. ‘Robust discussion’ would be an understatement.
Would a different panel have come to a different conclusion? Quite possibly, but it is of course impossible to tell. The joy of working in our sector is that we don’t make judgements just on spread sheets or scientific analysis. We inhabit the world of ambiguity, doubt, artistic judgement, relentless questioning. What I am certain of is that our selection panel was only interested in selecting the very best artistic idea, in line with the published criteria for the programme.
The Arts Council has a very clear, published complaints procedure for anyone who feels that their application for funding has not been fairly handled. That procedure includes the option to refer their complaint to an independent investigator if they are not satisfied by the Arts Council investigation. All formal and informal requests for information on the Yorkshire selection have been fully answered. I worry that artists may be put off future involvement of this sort if they are to be open to the unfounded claims in your article.
You quote Ms Lee as saying ‘Artists taking the lead was a once in a lifetime opportunity for local artists to shine, and they did, everywhere except Yorkshire’. I think the hundreds of Yorkshire dancers, actors, singers, designers, photographers, filmmakers and visual artists that helped transform Leeds for a weekend in May might just disagree. ArtsProfessional also does them a disservice by suggesting otherwise.