17 May 2020

In September 2020, seven artists of Chinese heritage were appointed by the Centre for Chinese Contemporary Art (CFCCA) in Manchester to co-design a Revisioning Project that would address equality and inclusion, and the future relevance of the organisation. CFCCA wanted artists in a central role to ‘shape their future and solve the issues of underrepresentation in the staff team’.  What followed was a series of events that unearthed a deep-rooted racism at the core of the institution and revealed an organisation unfit for purpose. We are those seven artists and this is our call for action.

The Revisioning Process was halted unilaterally in January 2021 following our first revisioning meeting of an all staff and Board workshop where we drew attention to racist comments, attitudes and processes on display in that meeting and historically in the organisation.  It was then terminated abruptly in March 2021. In the intervening period, CFCCA has withdrawn from a number of public events or cancelled artists’ work that might have raised questions of racial inclusivity and diversity. 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. For example, that they needed an indefinite amount of time for "soul-searching" before they could engage any further with Chinese artists, or in an email to us, that they needed their own space to carefully handle their own “white fragility” when in fact they had weaponised it their fragility during the revisioning process.

In light of Black Lives Matters and Stop Asian Hate, and as a group of artists selected by CFCCA itself,  we are disappointed and alarmed by what we have uncovered in this process. The leadership has been failing to address the accumulated complaints on racism and internal bullying since March 2020. We are still yet to see any resolution or any roadmap for organisational change that will address this and historic incidents of bullying at CFCCA.  As a Chinese organization occupied by white staff and one that has unabashedly maintained a culture of institutional racism for years, we are asking why it continues to receive public funding from Arts Council England. We demand clarity on why Arts Council England has not held CFCCA to account for poor standards, governance and service, and on the contrary has given this organisation a clean bill of health year on year as a regularly-funded National Portfolio Organisation.

CFCCA has also suffered a string of withdrawals from the artists it has commissioned, alongside public criticism of the organisation by some of these artists, notably by JJ Chan, Seecum Cheung and also Tiffany Leung, CFCCA’s only Chinese curator who suddenly left amid allegations of bullying. However this is the first time a group of artists tasked by CFCCA for its own revisioning are publicly calling out the racism in CFCCA and calling for Arts Council England’s accountability for this.

We now issue a public report to give an account our experience as the Artist Working Group and we call for the following specific actions:

1. For the CFCCA Board, Senior Management and Senior Curatorial staff to take responsibility for perpetuating structural racism and institutional failings and for them to step down from their positions immediately. 

2. For Arts Council England to stop funding an institutionally racist and dysfunctional organisation and to repurpose their investment into the practices of East and Southeast Asian artists.

3. For Arts Council England to open an investigation into the historic institutional failings of CFCC and to openly publish their findings with a set of immediately actionable recommendations for the wider arts sector.

4. For Arts Council England to acknowledge its historical instrumental role in perpetuating CFCCA’s institutional failings through their actions by:

​  a) co-opting the artist-led and community-centred Chinese Arts Centre and transforming it into a white-led organisation alienated from its artists and stakeholders in order to accomplish Arts Council England’s own agenda of needing to be seen to have a ‘Chinese’ arts organisation in their regularly funded portfolio.

  b) appointing a white Director to lead CFCCA once they had granted it NPO status and continuing to support CFCCA’s organisational failings since then.

5. For Arts Council England to initiate and timetable the setting up of a sector-wide independent and diverse monitoring body to ensure its own accountability and that of all the organisations it supports.

Please click this link to read the full report:

White Occupation of a Chinese Arts Centre - a Call for Action”.

Signed by Members of the Artist Working Group convened by CFCCA:

Eelyn Lee

Enoch Cheng

Erika Tan

Gayle Chong Kwan

Jack Tan

Whiskey Chow

Yuen Ling Fong

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