Elisabeth Murdoch Appointed To Arts Council England National Council – Should We Worry?

On 5th December, seven new appointments were quietly made to Arts Council England’s (ACE) National Council,  governing board. This included the  controversial choice of Elisabeth Murdoch, daughter of media mogul Rupert Murdoch. 

The Rt Hon Karen Bradley MP appointed the following General Council Members to Arts Council England: Elisabeth Murdoch (for terms of 4 years, commencing on 1 December 2017); Paul Roberts OBE and Tessa Ross (for terms of 3 years, commencing on 1 December 2017.)Michael Eakin (for a term of 4 years, commencing on 1 April 2018); Catherine Mallyon (for a term of 4 years, commencing on 26 April 2018); Andrew Miller, and George Mpanga.

“The appointment of Rupert Murdoch’s daughter to ACE’s National Council is not only deeply troubling, given her close ties to the Murdoch corporate empire, but is also a glaring example of how nefarious the UK arts establishment has become.” – STEPHEN PRITCHARD Colouring In Culture

Elisabeth is noted in her DCMS biography as the Founder and Chair of Freelands Group, comprising Freelands Ventures, a media and technology investment fund and Freelands Foundation, which supports visual arts and cultural programmes. Elisabeth is also the Founder and Chair of both Locksmith Animation Ltd and Vertical Networks.

She was the founder and former Chair of Shine Group, which grew to become one of the leading content production companies internationally over her 14-year tenure. Before founding Shine, Elisabeth was the Managing Director of Sky Networks, the programming and marketing division of BSkyB plc. Elisabeth began her career in television at the Nine Network in Australia, later joining Fox Television in Los Angeles as Programme and Promotion Manager for seven stations and then went to the FX Cable Network as Director of Acquisitions.

Ms Murdoch’s appointment will raise some left eyebrows, in most UK arts’ circles. (see quote above from Colouring In Culture) Her family connections were not an obstacle for Sir Nicholas Serota who never would have approved the appointment if he didn’t believe she could do the job. Serota has worked with Ms Murdoch for a number of years. Elisabeth Murdoch was a Tate Trustee between 2008 to 2016, and Chairman of the Tate Modern Advisory Council from 2009 to 2016. It is however arguably a provocative appointment and appears to many as a further eroding of government-sponsored arts in favour of privatisation and corporate sponsorship.

On a positive note, Murdoch is a champion of woman artists, setting up The Freelands Foundation, in 2015, which launched a £100,000 award to raise the profile of women artists and support the work of visual arts organisations outside London.

“Women artists in mid-career are still woefully under-represented in the art world, and this award aims to raise their profile” –  Elisabeth Murdoch.

The Award was launched in response to a report, commissioned by the Foundation in 2015, which found that although female art and design graduates outnumber men, women are not adequately represented at, and beyond, a mid-career point. For example, the report found that of the artists selected to represent Britain at the Venice Biennale only 33% were women. An audit of solo shows featured in the exhibition programme of 134 commercial galleries in London in 2012-13 found that only 31% of the represented artists were women and in 43 non-commercial galleries outside London in 2014-15, only 40% of the shows were by female artists. For organisations in receipt of more than £1m Arts Council England/DCMS funding, the figure drops to 25%.

It has been a busy week for the Murdoch clan with the family agreeing to sell $60b worth of its media empire, including 21th Century Fox Entertainment plus their share of Sky and Star Satellite to Disney. Maybe Arts Council England  (ACE) will give a new focus to the person once touted as the heir apparent to the Murdoch Empire.

Elisabeth Murdoch recently married the Turner Prize-winning artist Keith Tyson.


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