Anger as Arts Council chief is forced to quit by ministers

Popular chair not to be reappointed as Government seeks to boost private donations

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The British arts world was reeling yesterday after the Culture Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, moved to replace the popular Dame Liz Forgan as the chair of Arts Council England (ACE).

Mr Hunt called Dame Liz, 67, into a meeting this week to say he would not reappoint her to the role when her four-year term expires next January. Senior figures in the British art establishment expressed their shock at the decision yesterday, and some speculated that it was politically motivated.

David Lan, artistic director of the Young Vic, said: "I'm really shocked. She has done really well, and is popular with people it's not particularly easy to be popular with. She knows and likes artists, and is always around. I wonder what the problem was? She was doing really well but had only just got going. It'll be a big pair of shoes to fill;. Let's hope whoever does it has big feet."

Tate director Sir Nicholas Serota also attacked the Government's move, saying he was "deeply disappointed" by the decision. "She has led the council with real verve and conviction through a period in which cuts to arts spending could have resulted in the loss of major parts of our cultural landscape," he said.

He added: "That the arts are weathering these reductions is due to the resilience of companies and artists but also to the leadership and good judgement that she has shown as chair of the Arts Council."

The minister praised her as an "outstanding Arts Council chair, who has made a huge contribution to the arts in this country" but wants a new candidate to focus on boosting private donations to the arts, as well as its digital operations.

Mr Hunt said: "The next chair of the Arts Council will have to steer the organisation and the sector through another challenging period, in particular in increasing the amount of private giving to the arts, and encouraging the sector to make the most of technological changes."

The previous two incumbents, Sir Christopher Frayling and Sir Gerry Robinson, had seen their terms extended, so Dame Liz was expected to continue her restructuring of the organisation through to 2015.

ACE chief executive Alan Davey said that when she departs "she will leave behind a transformed Arts Council".

Dame Liz, a former director of programmes at Channel 4 and managing director of BBC Radio, was appointed to chair ACE in February 2009, the first woman to hold the position. She has also chaired the National Heritage Memorial Fund and the Heritage Lottery Fund.

Dame Liz never hid her left -wing views, which led to one arts industry expert to say: "This is a political move. She is a well-known left-winger. Perhaps the Government wants someone more in tune with its own views," before adding: "This could well backfire."

A spokesman for the Department for Culture, Media and Sport denied that there was any political motivation behind the decision.