Monday 4th April 2011: Statement from the Asian Music Circuit following the Arts Council's funding decision

Below is our offical statement following Arts Council England's decision to cut 100% of its funding from April 2012.

If you've been touched by the AMC's work over the past twenty years, please show your support in the following ways:

The Asian Music Circuit has received many letters of support: click here to read a selection. We thank everybody who has been in touch for their ongoing appreciation of our work.

 

The Asian Music Circuit (AMC) was created by the Arts Council in 1989 as a result of an internal inquiry in 1985 into the state of Asian music in the UK. Since there was an evident and clear demand but no available funding at that time, the Arts Council created the AMC and funded it on the recommendation of that inquiry, accepted by the Council itself. In a speech by the then General Secretary of the Arts Council at the launch of the AMC at the British Museum in 1989, he said that the seed had been sown and wished that from the 'small acorn an oak tree would grow'. In his response, the Chairman of the AMC stated that the tree would certainly grow provided it was kept watered and sustained. That sustenance has now been removed for reasons which are flawed, subjective, ill-thought out, irrational, based on highly selective information, unfair and do not stand scrutiny.

 It was out of a policy of equality and fairness that the AMC was created and funded continuously from 1991 until now, with the grant steadily increasing and the company being monitored by the Arts Council through its annual review process. These reports were always supportive of the AMC, commenting very favourably on its management, leadership, financial management and artistic programme. As a registered charity the AMC files its annual accounts with the Charities Commission as well as Companies House and the work of the AMC is transparent and in the public domain. The quality of its work has become evident as the public profile has increased and the Company has become well known in the UK and beyond, in Europe as in Asia.

The AMC is the only national organisation in the UK producing high quality events centred around music from the Asian continent. It has a free membership of almost 10,000 and many more follow the AMC through its website and social networks. Its work has touched people all over the UK - especially the Asian community, who see it as representing them in some way, feel a sense of ownership and identify with it. It has had the support of artists as well as the public.

The 100% withdrawal of funds from the AMC is not only a body blow to the Company but also affects the Asian community and sends an ominous message to the entire ethnic minority population that its culture is not valued. On the grounds of having a spread of organisations which work in their local regions around the country, the Arts Council have chosen to write off the one company that has taken Asian music all over the UK, which has a national remit given to it by the Arts Council and which has delivered its remit to a high standard; a company that has substantial expertise and knowledge in Asian music, which was consulted regularly and looked upon by other organisations as a source of advice, information and events to promote in their regions.

We are not aware that the Arts Council has either replaced or supported new organisations with the same level of expertise, knowledge and experience and covering such a wide range of music. As a result some regions and promoters in the UK are now left without any kind of support for the music they like and are interested in. Excellence, expertise and experience have not been replaced – even though the Arts Council talks about celebrating artistic excellence, being inspired by the arts, innovation, and having a workforce that is diverse, highly skilled and provides leadership. This displays a lack of understanding of the market for Asian Music and of organisations working in it – a matter of huge concern when the Arts Council is making decisions on how and who they fund. By withdrawing support completely from the AMC, the Arts Council is effectively wasting 20 years of public investment at a time when, surely, it is important to keep the best alive and sustained. 

The AMC has had a strong record of growth, substantial achievement, and providing public benefit and good value for money. It has set benchmarks for excellence and the professional promotion of Asian music in the UK. The AMC has brought new Asian audiences to mainstream venues like the Southbank Centre; it has taken Asian music to all corners of the UK – to small as well as large venues - constantly developing audiences. It has worked with partners and helped them to deliver high quality events in their areas by subsidising them to make concerts happen.

The AMC has a well established education programme, which includes the Museum of Asian Music, the first of its kind in the UK with its large audio-visual archive, interactive digital programmes and collection of musical instruments. HRH Prince of Wales paid tribute to the AMC by visiting the Museum in July 2008. The Company has embraced the Arts Council’s call for involvement with digital technology: our Virtual Gurus™ are currently on display at the Southbank Centre; our new website has been launched, offering the chance to enjoy the displays and films from our Museum; and our own documentary films are shown at concerts and events. We organise highly successful Summer Schools in many aspects of Asian music.

The AMC has produced many Asian music concerts for the BBC, including the BBC Proms, and its artists often appear on radio and TV. It has been innovative and created new works and collaborations. It has helped and supported young people through its awards and bursary scheme, with several young British musicians achieving high standards and recognition in their own right.

With our partner, the Croydon International Music Festival, the AMC’s top award of £1500+ has encouraged many youngsters over the last ten years or so, one of them being selected as the BBC World Music Academy mentee this year.

Just some of the artists the AMC has worked with include Ravi Shankar, Asha Bhosle, SHAAN, Zakir Hussain, John McLaughlin, Amjad Ali Khan, Hari Prasad Chaurasia, Shiv Kumar Sharma Rajan/Sajan Misra, Jagjit Singh and many many more superb artists from all over Asia. Some of the ground breaking events include the AMC-produced concert at the Royal Albert Hall in 2005, 'GUJARAT – A CELEBRATION', which was a landmark event for the Gujarati community in the UK and which was broadcast worldwide by Sony; several BBC Proms; and the 'Dying Song' – a beautiful music theatre production about the art of “thumri” celebrating the 50th anniversary of Indian Independence in 1997 at the Royal Albert Hall. The AMC won the prestigious HSBC Indo-British Award for its contribution to relations between the UK and India.

The AMC was the first company to bring musicians from Afghanistan to the UK soon after the defeat of the Taliban, following this up with another tour of music from Herat in 2010. It was the first company to bring Tibetan Opera to the UK, the Sidi Goma musicians and dancers from Gujarat and various artists from China, Japan and Indonesia. Working with schools, hospitals, and Music in Detention is also part of the outreach work of the AMC.

Raising funds for the earthquake victims in Gujarat or in Pakistan through major concerts has been another aspect of the AMC’s work. Whether it was folk music from Rajasthan and Gujarat, or gamelan and puppetry from Indonesia, or the music from Afghanistan, or the classical traditions from the Indian subcontinent or West Asia (Iran), East Asia (China, Japan, Korea), Central Asia (Azerbaijan, Uzbekistan, Afghanistan) or South East Asia (Vietnam, Thailand, Indonesia), the variety of styles and genres that the AMC works with is extraordinary. To produce between 100 to 150 events per year has been the standard workload for the AMC. To list all the wonderful artists and genres of music would take many pages.

The AMC has worked with major venues like the Southbank Centre, the Royal Albert Hall, the Barbican and LSO St Luke’s, and through our regional partners with major regional venues. While the events are many and varied the average percentage of turnover that has been generated by the AMC is 46.096%, with ACE's grant being 53.904%. In the current year the projected figures are 43.15% and 56.85% respectively. It has to be remembered that the AMC does not normally produce large commercial events which can generate a large income and profit, but brings unusual, traditional and innovative works to the public in the UK, providing a chance to experience music which would otherwise not be possible. This is also indicative of the expertise and knowledge of Asian music that the AMC has in–house or access to.

The AMC was born out of a policy of equality in the Arts Council – that policy has now changed as support for the entire BME (black and ethnic minority) sector has been reduced from what was an already very disproportionately low level. The policy of diversity has meant nothing as there were few organisations that were as diverse as the AMC – in terms of its internal structure, its artistic output, the audiences it has developed (the highest percentage of its audiences are not from the Asian communities) and its geographical spread.

 At a time when 'diversity' is valued in generating awareness, integration and citizenship, at a time when the world will descend upon London in 2012 for the Olympic Games, diversity in the musical landscape of the UK has been substantially reduced.

When global tensions call for better communications, understanding and empathy between diverse cultures, the Asian Music Circuit provides the ideal platform to bring the various communities together through high quality art at all levels, including the young as well as the old.

We are not aware that the Arts Council has made any equality impact assessment on the effects of its decision. The Arts Council is legally bound to demonstrate due regard for equality of opportunity in the light of its drastic reduction in funding for Asian music from an already low position, marking a change in policy resulting in the disproportionate and negative impact on Asian music, musicians and followers.

The AMC is a company that has played an important part in the UK music landscape. It has now been refused any more funding on grounds that are unsound, eschewing principles of equality, diversity and fairness, displaying disregard for the great music traditions of Asia and the genuine interest and passion that exists in the UK for these, not only within the various Asian communities who live here but all sectors of our society. 20 years of huge effort, time, investment, expertise, experience and creativity are now threatened with being wasted and an excellent legacy for future generations lost.

We seek your urgent support in our efforts to reverse this irrational, biased and unfair decision. Please sign our petition or email the AMC at info@amc.org.uk with statements or letters of support, and show your appreciation for the AMC and the high values that it stands for.