ACE grant to library artists sparks controversy

ACE grant to library artists sparks controversy

A move by Arts Council England to put artists into libraries to work with communities has proved controversial with library campaigners.

ACE has given a grant of £100,000 to North Yorkshire County Council's library service to fund 24 artists to be based in eight libraries to work with library users and other community members.

The programme, funded by the Grants for the Arts programme, "will use libraries as a resource for people to explore the nature of their communities through the arts and their own creative potential", according to a report in the Harrogate News.

Carl Clayton, relationship manager for libraries at ACE, is quoted as saying: "Changing both the public and government perception of libraries and developing them as cultural hubs and creative spaces are keys to the future sustainability of libraries. This is an ambitious programme with a clear vision, offering participants a broad range of artistic activities with which they can engage."

However campaigner Desmond Clarke commented: "Libraries are a statutory service that exist to the benefit of the public to support literacy, reading, education and the acquisition of information and knowledge and ACE has been charged with helping library authorities to 'develop and improve', not to change the public and government perception of libraries as 'cultural hubs'.

"I suggest that we should be worried about this development, not least that it seems to have evolved without any public consultation or parliamentary debate and ignores the many issues faced by library authorities as they try to cope both with changing demands for their services and with enormous financial pressures."

Librarian and campaigner Alan Wylie agreed, saying: "Right from the start I, and others, had serious concerns about the decision to hand the development remit to ACE, I saw it as a way of undermining and sidelining the educational and information role of libraries and this push towards 'cultural hubs' and the tying down of £6m worth of funding to library/arts partnerships only reinforces my belief.

"On top of all this we have the government actively promoting volunteer-led 'book exchanges' as a viable alternative to statutory, publicly managed/funded and professionally run libraries!

"The national service has been cast adrift leaving individual local authorities to slash, divest and 'localise', it's not, as many would like us to believe, an opportunity—it's a crisis."