On Friday 4th November, Arts Council England informed us that they will stop funding Centrala and remove us from the National Portfolio from 2023. This is as disappointing and devastating for our team, as it is for England’s Central and Eastern European (CEE) communities, artists and creatives. We would like to thank everyone for the overwhelming support from the public we have received so far, for which we are very grateful.

A PDF of the following statement can be found here

Despite overall investment in the West Midlands increasing (including the arrival of new organisations to the portfolio), none of the funded organisations address the needs of CEE migrants, who are one of the largest diaspora groups in the UK. The fact that we are being discontinued at a time of increased investment makes this decision by the Arts Council even harder to comprehend.

Centrala is the only arts organisation dedicated to platforming Central and Eastern European culture, and supporting CEE artists and creatives in the UK. Centrala provides a sense of belonging, as well as events and spaces that support and further the work of migrant artists. The decision to remove Centrala from the Arts Council portfolio sends a message against these migrant communities and will impact them disproportionately.

Since opening Centrala in 2015, our artistic programme has focused on bringing high quality art from Central and Eastern Europe, linking our programmes with local communities and promoting migrant integration. Over the past years we have also developed a unique and internationally renowned programme of experimental music. Our Funding application in this round asked for an uplift to accelerate our work and deepen our impact, to include music and presence in the Levelling-Up priority places. This ambition has now been rejected by the Arts Council, leaving these plans in limbo.

We welcome the announced 30% increase in funding for diverse-led organisations. However, the Arts Council refuses to acknowledge the CEE community as being a minority ethnic group in the UK in their monitoring of diversity. Census figures from 2021 indicate that there are over 2 million Central and Eastern Europeans living in the UK. Darren Henley, CEO of Arts Council England, stated that he wants the National Portfolio to reflect the way England looks and feels in the 21st Century. However, his organisation has acted to ensure the opposite: now a major section of the UK population will have no representation in the Arts Council portfolio.

We have been conducting research and carrying out advocacy work to ensure that CEE migrants and their art are included in UK public life, some of which is documented in our ‘In Between Spaces’ report which we published with the University of Birmingham. We continue to work with universities and research bodies to contribute to policy making in the area of arts and culture and migrant integration. We have developed a unique methodology of combining research with community work and artistic commissioning. The resulting work has been widely published and commended. Internationally, we are recognised for our work as members of the Trans Halles Europe network, Cultural Action Europe, and the European Network of Cultural Centres.

We worked tirelessly throughout the pandemic, never closing any of our programmes or services. In fact, over the past two years we have doubled in size, built a larger team, developed more partnerships, and delivered more services to more audiences. We are particularly proud that our music audience doubled in the last two years, In recent years supporting over 2300 performers across more than 500 performances, covering everything from grime to contemporary composition. We currently average a thousand visitors a month in our two gallery spaces despite the post pandemic drop in audiences. We have also provided a platform for other organisations and become recognised as an integral part of the Birmingham arts and music scene. These achievements – and our ability to support communities at this challenging time – are now undermined by Arts Council’s unanticipated and unjustified decision. This is more urgent given the current context: since the start of the war in Ukraine we have been providing support to artists at risk, a place of belonging for Ukrainian communities and a space to showcase Ukrainian art.

We will be taking the coming weeks to rethink our strategy. Until such a time, we will pause all international commitments and some of our services will be affected. Whilst we acknowledge Arts Council England’s opportunity to apply for ‘transition’ funding, we are yet to receive an acceptable explanation as to why Centrala was singled out to be axed from the portfolio in the first place. The Arts Council’s decision will have grave consequences for the UK’s Central and Eastern European migrant communities and is completely contradictory to Henley’s vision of a more representative arts sector. We urge Arts Council England to reconsider their decision.

Centrala –  9 November 2022

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