Very tragic news out of England. As part of the country’s new austerity budget, last week the Arts Council England unceremoniously axed their country’s most prestigious animation program Animate Projects after twenty-one years of funding. The program will be shut down at the end of March.
Official statement from Animate Projects can be read on their site. Gary Thomas, co-director of Animate, released a statement saying that, “The Arts Council said it would not be ‘fair’ to fund us through Grants for the Arts, but before we applied they told us that this was our only option, and it’s how they’ve funded us since 2007. What makes us most angry is the attitude towards the artform, the artists and animators we work with, and our audiences.”
Since being founded as an Arts Council/Channel 4 venture, the program has produced 140 animated shorts including 11 British Animation Awards winners and five BAFTA nominees. It has had a massive impact on the British animation landscape by nurturing budding and established animation talent, encouraging experimentation and innovation within the art form, exposing the general public to contemporary animation, building bridges between animation and other visual arts, and generally helping to position England at the forefront of the independent animation scene. Filmmaker Mario Cavalli, who participated in the program, also lauded the program’s “broader economic benefits, stimulating commercial spin-off projects, job creation and exports.”
The organization has funded films by a who’s who of independent animators including Run Wrake (his film Rabbit, image above, was made through Animate), the Quay Brothers, Ruth Lingford, Paul Bush, Phil Mulloy, Chris Shepherd, Vera Neubauer, Jonathan Hodgson, and dozens of others. It also made the UK an inviting home for global filmmaking talent, including Apichatpong Weerasethakul, who made a project with Animate immediately prior to directing last year’s Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives, which won the Palme d’Or at Cannes.
The death of the program chills all of Animate’s plans for 2011 including “a wide range of collaborative projects with a digital focus, including a large-scale practice based research project with a University, artist residencies in a research laboratory, artist collaborations with community groups, and a partnership to deliver moving image to healthcare sites nationwide.” As animation continues to grow in stature and move to the forefront of contemporary art, the shortsightedness of the Arts Council England will become more evident. With one swift stroke, they’ve carelessly destroyed a program cultivated over two decades that had an invaluable cultural and economic impact on the country’s filmmaking and art scenes.
All the Animate films can be seen on AnimateProjects.org at least through the end of March. Hopefully they’ll find a way to keep the site functional afterward. To get a better sense of the impact this has on the animation community, read the outpouring of comments on the Animate Projects blog.
(Thanks, Stephen Cavalier)