Arts Council England Criticized for Awarding Boiler Room £800k Grant - Selector

Arts Council England Criticized for Awarding Boiler Room £800k Grant

10.19.2020

Arts Council England has announced the second round of Culture Recovery Fund grant recipients. Among the newly awarded institutions is Boiler Room, but the broadcasting platform’s history has led many to question the fairness of the funding.

In an October 17th data release, Arts Council England announced that a total of £76 million had been distributed to 589 organizations. Of the sum, Boiler Room (UK) Limited has been allocated £791,652. The grant was one of the biggest awarded in Round 2; only seven institutions received more to offset losses brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Following the release, a financial statement filed by Boiler Room on August 4th (five days after the Culture Recovery Fund was announced) made its rounds on social media. According to the document, the company posted a net operating loss of £6,633,752 in 2018. They managed to shore up operations for 2019 fiscal year but still suffered another loss of £1,299,656.

Language in the Culture Recovery Fund criteria appears to disqualify institutions beleaguered by financial difficulty prior to the pandemic. “While we appreciate that the COVID-19 crisis will have impacted further on your financial situation, we are not able to accept applications from organizations to cover significant costs or debts incurred before the COVID-19 pandemic,” reads a passage.

In their statement, Boiler Room made note of the company’s ongoing financial setbacks and argued that “a strong calendar of events and the continued development of new partnerships and ideas” had set them up for a return to profitability in 2020-2021.

“Since the balance sheet date, the COVID-19 virus crisis has arisen and has disrupted the schedule of events, alongside some uncertainty over when events will be possible again…” they wrote. “…Although events are on hold this year, alongside the continued engagement of artists and communities, the support of our partners, utilizing government support where available and having considered the ability to meet liabilities of the business as they fall due, the directors conclude the company is well placed to weather the current social, political and economic headwinds.”

The grant raised red flags among stakeholders in electronic music culture nonetheless – in part due to Boiler Room’s controversial history with Arts Council England. In 2017, the government organization awarded the broadcaster a £297,298 Ambition For Excellence grant to organize live streams for the 2018 edition of Notting Hill Carnival as part of a broader mission to dispel a “negative media perception” around the event. The festival organizers themselves, meanwhile, were only given £100,000 for their role in the 2018 event by the Kensington and Chelsea council.

In an article for Colouring in Culture, Dr. Stephen Pritchard asserted that Boiler Room did not support the Creative Case for Diversity funding criteria. The private limited company, he noted, was founded in 2010 by Blaise Bellville and Caius Pawson with the help of U.S. equity financing firm Conegliano Ventures. Based on Bellville and Pawson’s family ties to the British elite, he made a case that the 2017 award constituted “colonialism and white, upper and middle-class privilege” as Notting Hill Carnival is often cited as one of the most significant events for Black British culture.

“The criteria to be awarded a grant are rigorous and we are confident we have applied them in all our decision making,” reads a statement emailed to Selector by Arts Council England. “Organizations offered funding had to demonstrate that their operations were sustainable prior to the pandemic, and that they are at risk of no longer trading viably by March 2021.”

“Boiler Room is a global live music digital platform, which was streaming from over 200 cities, had hosted performances from over 5,000 underground and established artists and was reaching over 70 million users a month,” it goes on. “This grant will allow Boiler Room to remain partially open, continue to create content and platform artists. The majority of their grant will go towards program delivery and paying artist fees. The organization will run a global digital nightclub, with tickets and membership subscription to live stream events, and produce digital content and merchandise to showcase emerging and established electronic music artists.”

Boiler Room has not responded to Selector‘s request for comment at the time of writing.

Left Out in the Cold

Perhaps more outrageous to those with a personal investment in U.K. dance culture is the list of organizations denied funding by Arts Council England. Decoded Magazine reports that London venues like PrintworksThe DrumshedEgg LondonStudio 338, Oval SpaceExhibition London and The Pickle Factory had their applications rejected. Depot Mayfield in Manchester met a similar fate.

When Round 1 of the Culture Recovery Fund aid was announced on October 12th, a grant of £750,000 awarded to Resident Advisor sparked similar outcry. The ticketing platform and media outlet’s co-founder, Nick Sabine, responded to criticism by the likes of Dave Clarke and Mint Royale by revealing in a statement that the COVID-19 pandemic cost them 95% of their revenue and that 75% of the grant would go towards retaining permanent staff.

“We are shocked and dismayed that some of the key contemporary music venues, events and supply chain have been missed out of the cultural recovery fund, and with no clear understanding of the future, this has left many of them in an extremely difficult financial position,” wrote Night Time Industries Association CEO Michael Kill in a statement. “We have been aware all along that the fund would not be able to support everyone, and will leave many businesses who have missed out on this opportunity awaiting on a perilous cliff edge, but given the significance of some of the businesses that have been left out, we are concerned with regard to eligibility and fair consideration around the types of businesses and the criteria they have been measured against.”

Arts Council England will announce grants of over £1 million as part of a future round of funding. £166 million of the £500 million fund total remains to be distributed.

This article has been updated to include a statement from Arts Council England.

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