Artists call for gallery to be defunded because of a 'culture of institutional racism'

A group of artists are calling for a Chinese art gallery in Manchester to be defunded because of a “current and historic culture of institutional racism”.

Seven artists of Chinese heritage were appointed in September by the Centre for Chinese Contemporary Art as part of a “revisioning project” that would address equality and inclusion in the charity. 

The project began last year after the CFCCA came under criticism from staff and contractors working with the organisation about a lack of representation. 

This included a series of events that “unearthed a deep-rooted racism at the core of the institution and revealed an organisation unfit for purpose”, according to a petition by the artists.  

The project was paused in January, when the artists raised the issue with the gallery, and stopped altogether two months later, the petition states. 

The CFCCA said the project was paused “to recruit a new chair of trustees as this is essential to the project’s successful delivery”

The artists are calling on the CFCCA board, senior management and senior curatorial staff to step down from their positions.

The petition says: “CFCCA has employed a strategy of avoidance and delay to silence discussion on its failures, while at the same time providing disingenuously ‘woke’ reasons for their inaction.”

They are also calling for the grant-maker Arts Council England to clarify why it had not held CFCCA to account for “poor standards”, to stop funding the charity and open an investigation into its historic institutional failings.

One of the artists, Eelyn Lee, has published a series of comments on social media relating to the artists’ accusations of institutional racism at the charity.  

The CFCCA said in a statement: “We recognise that there has been hurt caused. We are concerned and saddened to read of negative experiences from staff and artists. 

“The independent audit process was intended as a space for past and present collaborators to reach out and share, with autonomy and confidentiality, their experiences of working with the organisation.”   

A spokesperson for Arts Council England said: “We take allegations and accounts of racism very seriously, and we recognise how difficult it is for anyone to speak out and share such experiences. 

“Although we are not responsible for the governance, management and operations of the organisations we fund, we do have policies and agreements in place to monitor our funded organisations and to hold them to account.

“We have raised this, as a matter of urgency, with the board of the Centre for Chinese Contemporary Art and we expect them to take appropriate action in response to the concerns and very serious issues that have been raised. We also want to engage directly with the artists who have issued a call for action.” 

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