80% of arts professionals hide support for conservative ideas due to fear of backlash, study says

Antony Gormley
British artist Antony Gormley poses for a photograph on his sculpture 'Model' at a White Cube gallery in London |

Some 80% of arts and cultural workers say they mute their support for conservative or politically incorrect ideas due to fear of backlash from the public, colleagues or people who fund their work, according to a new study.

The new data was reflected in the results of ArtsProfessional’s recently published Freedom of Expression survey in the U.K.

In the survey, more than 500 artists and arts workers responded to questions about their experiences navigating controversy and coercion and their responses revealed a culture of self-censorship in which they were pressured into silence out of fear of harassment and humiliation as well as through the use of nondisclosure agreements.

Even though 90% of respondents agreed that “the arts and cultural sector has a responsibility to use its unique talents to speak out about things that matter, regardless of the potential consequences,” more than 80% thought “workers in the arts and cultural sector who share controversial opinions risk being professionally ostracized,” according to the survey.

ArtsProfessional editor Amanda Parker told ArtsProfessional magazine that the results of the survey show “a deep division between public perception and the reality of working in the arts and cultural sector.”

“Our survey shines a damning light on the coercion, bullying, intimidation and intolerance that is active among a community that thinks of itself as liberal, open minded and equitable,” she said.

Lee Ufan art
One of Lee Ufan's paintings displayed at the Pace Gallery in London |

“We are very aware that this research doesn’t reflect all views, but it’s a sad and timely indication of the suppressed hurt and anger felt by many, despite the loud and growing conversations about collaboration and inclusiveness,” she explained.

The study found that anything that might be considered “politically incorrect” to the liberal-leaning sector was felt to be risky territory for those working in the arts and cultural sector. Areas such as religion, gender and sexuality were also considered a “minefield.”

“Anything to do with gender issues, especially trans issues, will get a lot of flak for either not being on message enough, or being off message, or too on message,” one respondent noted.

Another respondent said the field is “nowhere near as open as they pretend to be, there is a lot of hiding and backstabbing.”

Just 40% of respondents agreed that “personal views and opinions are met with respect by others working in the arts & cultural sector,” while only 42% said they feel free to speak publicly about their personal views on issues affecting the arts sector.

“Our arts, culture, and indeed education sectors are supposed to be fearlessly free-thinking and open to a wide range of challenging views. However, they are now dominated by a monolithic politically correct class (mostly of privileged white middle class people, by the way), who impose their intolerant views across those sectors,” explained a respondent to the survey.

“This is driving people who disagree away, risks increasing support for the very things this culturally dominant class professes to stand against, and is slowly destroying our society and culture from the inside.”

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