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Wednesday 30 October 2013

The strange tale of Rhizome and its Arts Council funding

7on7 about to start (NYC) 7on7 about to start (NYC) Rafael Rozendaal, CC licence http://www.flickr.com/photos/newrafael/8665009497/

Rhizome's Seven on Seven event took place last weekend at the Barbican in London. Bringing artists and technologists together, it was the first event on British soil for the digital arts organisation and was sponsored by a number of organisations including Wieden + Kennedy. Why and how Rhizome required Arts Council funding for the event, however, was opened up in a series of supposedly leaked emails, released over the weekend.


A Twitter account was set up called @jiggawebz93 by a person who remains anonymous, and the account has since been suspended. The account appears to have been created to leak information about Rhizome's application to Arts Council England (ACE), with the account owner claiming to have hacked into Rhizome's email and web CMS. Here's what it looked like.


Rhizome made a successful application to ACE for, it is alleged by Jiggawebz93, £15,000. A conversation between Rhizome's Heather Corcoran and ACE's Relationship Manager Sabine Unamun was also leaked by Jiggawebz and remains online. Here is an extract, where Corcoran asks Unamun as to whether not having a UK presence will invalidate the funding application:

From: Heather CorcoranThis email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Sent: 03 June 2013 18:28
To: Sabine Unamun
Subject: Re: Rhizome GftA app

Great ok will do - sorry one last thing - in the application I refer to Rhizome as an NYC based organization and outline our NYC staff structure etc. Should I downplay this or is it ok? I will mention explicitly the informal UK arm but just want to check that it will be ok also to mention that our core activities are American.


From: Sabine Unamun
To: Heather Corcoran
Subject: RE: Rhizome GftA app
Date: Mon, 3 Jun 2013 17:47:23 +0000

I would put the emphasis on the London arm and structure and add the support that the NYC office will play in enabling the UK activities.
All the best,


"GftA" refers to Grants for the Arts, ACE's general funding bucket. In its eligibility guidance, ACE states that "We can only make grants to individuals and organisations based within the European Union." Whether Rhizome is a de facto "organisation based within the European Union" is open to interpretation.

We put this point alongside further questions to an Arts Council spokesman yesterday. Here's how the conversation went.

Given that Rhizome doesn't have a UK base, does this alleged evidence contravene GtfA eligibility - which is to individuals and organisations based within the EU?

As you outline above, we can only make grants to individuals and organisations based within the European Union. An individual based within the EU (but outside England) will need to have a bank account in the UK. Individuals resident in and organisations registered in England will also need to have a bank account in the UK.

In this instance, the applicant applied as an individual leading on producing and curating a series of events in London. We accepted that the applicant was a UK resident as defined by the London address and that the payment was going to a UK bank account. The application demonstrated that the activity would be entirely based in the UK and that the applicant would be UK-based for the duration of the activity.

In addition, it was very clear from the application that our investment would bring a strong mix leading artists and technologists together for the benefit of UK audiences. Each strand of the activity was based in London, introducing new audiences to the debate that Rhizome has been part of since it started in 1996.

What was the money used for?

The investment has been used to support three events that examine art and technology, two of which have taken place, furthering its discourse and introducing it to new audiences in the UK. The three events are Post-Net Aesthetics, ICA, 17/10/13 and Seven on Seven, at the Barbican. The third event is a discussion, where topic and timing of this event will be dependent on discussions that took place during Post-Net Aesthetics and Seven on Seven.

Would this money be better spent on investing in digital arts events/projects from UK organisations (Pervasive Media Studio, Furtherfield, Lighthouse et al)?

Arts Council England operates a wide range of investment strands, each of which contributes towards our objective of achieving "great art for everyone". It is important that this investment is diverse and, where appropriate, helps bring to the UK activities and artists of international renowned to benefit audiences.

The series of events surrounding Seven on Seven heavily featured UK-based artists and technologists and were to the benefit of UK audiences. Ultimately this can only contribute to the UK’s digital arts scene and as a result, the activity was considered a valuable investment.

Arts Council England’s investment includes our National portfolio organisations, of which Furtherfield, Lighthouse and Watershed (which is involved in Pervasive Media Studio) are all part. The portfolio consists of a rich variety of organisations across England, reflecting the quality and excellence of the arts in England. We also invest through our Strategic funding stream, which is used to target key areas and seize opportunities.

We also invest in arts and cultural organisations through our open-access Grants for the Arts strand. This can range from events and commissions through to professional development and touring. Organisations that receive investment via our National portfolio are not eligible to apply to our Grants for the arts programme, which gives the small, the new, the community-driven and emerging artists a better chance of success. As a result, neither Furtherfield nor Lighthouse would be eligible to apply for investment from Grants for the Arts.

Digital innovation and creative media is a priority for the Arts Council. We have several programmes dedicating to helping organisation realise its potential.


So... is Rhizome a worthy recipient of ACE funding? If you attended and enjoyed Seven on Seven then your views might be more positive, but perhaps we don't know the full impact of this application before Rhizome builds a greater events and promotional presence in the UK. Where that leaves UK-founded digital arts organisations remains open to debate.

Paul is the publisher of Imperica.

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