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artistic freedom in country.

Index on Censorship’s major conference ‘Taking the Offensive – defending artistic freedom of expression in the UK’ Southbank Centre, London, January 2013 was the first cross-art-form, sector- wide, national conference on artistic freedom in this country. It was held in partnership with Southbank Centre and Free Word Centre and was funded by Arts Council England. The conference was held to debate the growth of self-censorship in contemporary culture, the social, political and legal challenges to artistic freedom of expression and the sources of these new challenges and pressures including security issues, risk aversion and a growing sensitivity to ‘offence’. The conference discussed and debated how best to defend and push back the boundaries to free expression across the arts in the UK and how to build and reinforce support throughout the arts sector in defence of the fundamental right to freedom of expression.

The conference was held mainly on the record with the goal of opening up debates within the arts sector first and then to take the debate to a wider public audience in the future. Jude Kelly, OBE, Artistic Director of the Southbank Centre, in her opening remarks identified the need for the sector to, “talk about how they would articulate, and defend freedom of expression and then how they can speak to media and their audiences …to articulate their position.” One of the triggers for the conference was to tackle the isolation that often accompanies controversy. Backlash around challenging work from audience members, board members, funders, sponsors, general public and media can be hard to handle and can leave those in the eye of the storm feeling isolated. Jude Kelly called for the sector to, “stand together and make a cogent and responsible and sophisticated fist of this debate. We will persuade the media and the public that this is an arena in which we have the right to determine how we operate.”

The conference painted a picture of contemporary censorship in the arts, made up of a wide range of constraints and pressures on arts organisations, and the audience heard how other cultural and media players experience and manage censorship. It also addressed practical means to tackle the pressures that can lead to censorship with the final panel looking at what practical steps are needed to address the problems raised. We hope the conference itself and this report will prove of value across the sector. It will inform Index on Censorship’s future work programme on promoting greater understanding and co-operation on how to defend and promote artistic freedom of expression.

The day-long conference was attended by an audience of 220 people from the cultural sector, law, funders, and religious groups. Full details of the programme and the audience evaluation are in the appendix.

In this report, we present the range of opinions and ideas voiced during the conference at the panels, plenaries and in the breakout sessions. The report considers the discussion under a series of headings, drawing together themes of debate, rather than following the format of the programme itself. In the opening section the report looks at a key issue – which generally gets assumed rather than talked about sufficiently – what is artistic freedom of expression and what status does it have in contemporary culture? The report then looks at the whole gamut of constraints, controls and suppression of artistic freedom that were identified during the day before drawing together the different strategies needed to reinforce support across the sector. The final section summarises some of the key conclusions including ways to take the debate forward.