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Cultural diversity policies and prejudice

Facts, figures and feedback

Index on Censorship’s conference ‘Taking the offensive – defending artistic freedom of expression in the UK’ took place at Southbank Centre on January 29th 2013. It was attended by 224 delegates and speakers representing a range of stakeholders5, the majority being representatives from arts organisations but with a good and even spread across funders, NGOs and artists. Local government civil service, media, academia and religious groups were also represented.

Audience feedback forms 
Audience members were invited to fill in an evaluation form comprising 5 questions with ‘tick box’ replies, where 5 is excellent and 1 is poor. We had 72 respondents. 87.5% gave a 4 or above for overall satisfaction and usefulness of the content. Choice of speakers and duration and format were also high, with around 80% giving 4 or above. Opportunities for interaction and Q & A were rated lowest but still at a good level with 63% giving 4 or above6. 87.5% of the respondents want to stay involved in the project – a remarkable indicator of the success of the day.

Next Steps
The audience feedback forms asked for suggestions on what our next steps should be – 51 people responded. The answers can be placed under the following headings: guidance and support networks, further debate and public engagement, awareness raising and education.

Guidance and support networks
There was a perceived need for guidance at different stages in the making and producing of work that addresses contentious issues, with smaller grass-roots arts organisations singled out as in particular need of support. Guidance could cover managing the press, police and members of the public in case of controversy and it was suggested that a helpline should be set up. Guidance was also recommended from the Director of Public Prosecutions when dealing with artist censorship for police and local authorities who may intervene as they see it on behalf of members of the public. It was also suggested that the sector should establish principles of cross sector support and advocacy minimising isolation and improving wider understanding of the role and potential of arts within contemporary society.

Further debate and public engagement
There was a call for public engagement, debate and conversation on the role of art in society especially with communities with few opportunities to do so and for open discussion about the challenges facing artistic freedom of expression. One respondent pointed to the need for free and frank dialogue between all stakeholders, learning from each other, rather than coming up with a hard and fast policy document too soon. There were recommendations that religious and non-religious people should work together on this as the project moves forward to avoid stigmatisation. One respondent to the feedback described the need for an open and honest interrogation of the notion of artistic freedom of expression and its relationship to philanthropic giving and public funding.

Awareness raising and education
A range of awareness raising and education was identified as necessary to address different kinds of censorship including: working with the police to prevent over-reaction and closing down of shows, performances, and with artists and institutions so they acknowledge that they self censor and work actively against it. Schools and other learning environments need to be more involved in these debates. It is critical that young people have time and space to explore some of the complexities around art, freedom of expression and global sensitivities.

Campaigning
There was a general comment about the need to push for legal reforms where necessary to strengthen these rights. There were several mentions of the potentially harmful impact of government education reforms in particular Ebacc (which at the time of writing is still a threat to the future of arts education in schools) and the knock on effect on access to the right of artistic expression. Another participant pointed to the need to form a strategic plan to address attacks on artistic freedoms through coalitions, mapping these attacks both nationally and internationally, and developing collaborative approaches to urgent situations as they arise.7