The Creative Case for Diversity is part of Arts Council England’s aims for making art more reflective of the UK population, inclusive, and interesting. We discuss how arts organisations can begin addressing diversity issues in the arts, beginning with our own example.
It’s no great secret that the arts industry in England is facing a diversity issue. Museums, theatres, galleries and other arts organisations are staffed by people and attract an audience that is overwhelmingly white, C1 or above social/economic class and not identifying as disabled.
Obviously, this issue is bigger than the arts. There are deep structural issues stemming from historic systems of oppression and wider trends in society that have created the current situation and the Arts Council and their funded organisations have little influence over wider trends in society and policy that may influence our sector.
However, that doesn’t excuse organisations involved in the arts from working to change this.
From Arts Council England’s recent report, Equality, Diversity and the Creative Case we know that:
16% of the UK working age population identifies as Black or Minority Ethnic (BME).
11% of the staff at NPOs (National Portfolio Organisations) identify as BME.
Only 4% of the staff a MPMs (Major Partner Museums) identify as BME.
For disabled staff, the figures are even starker. Just 4% of staff at NPOs and MPMs identify as disabled, compared to 20% of the working age population.
ACE doesn’t yet have enough data to track the ethnicity of audiences to NPO events but anecdotal reporting suggests that the audience generally reflects the make-up of the staff, although there has been significant work done at reaching lower income audiences.
ACE is committed to ensuring publically funded arts and culture in England reflects the diversity of our country this and so has added The Creative Case for Diversity into their considerations for awarding funding. This means that funded organisations are expected to show how they contribute to the Creative Case for Diversity through the work they produce and present as well as address other challenges and opportunities in audience development, public engagement, workforce and leadership.
But tackling issues of bias and oppression is a big ask, so where can you start?
This was the question we asked ourselves in January 2016 in preparation for assisting arts organisations in meeting the challenge of the Creative Case for Diversity as part of our role as Bridge organisation for Yorkshire and Humber.
We started by involving the entire IVE team in structured conversations as part of our first Reflective Diversity Lab with Jo Verrent (project manager and diversity trainer in the cultural sector); Aidan Moesby (a socially engaged responsive artist who works extensively in Arts and Health, Mental Health in particular); Larna Campbell (a Leeds-based visual artist); and Balbir Singh (founder and lead choreographer at Balbir Singh Dance Company) around diversity and equality, unconscious bias and the challenges arising for IVE and our work with cultural and education sectors. This gave us time to reflect on our existing practice, to explore how diversity could bring creative advantage to our work and to identify and make changes to policy and practice so we are better able to help create the conditions with arts and cultural organisations to further equality in the arts, museums and libraries for children and young people.
The session was incredibly provocative and useful and all members of staff recorded that they were able to consider elements of bias in their opinions they had not previously reflected on. Our conversation with Jo Verrent helped us appreciate our individual unconscious biases and collective organisational biases and how we might mitigate against them. For example, a conversation arose about what constitutes “quality” art and how that can default to being art that the observer is most familiar with.
“The opportunity to reflect on what diversity is helped me realise the diversity of diversity” (IVE staff)
“Once somebody knows us their perception of us changes. We are not what we look like on the outside.” (Jo Verrent)
The second key realisation came during our conversation with Aidan Moesby. He helped us appreciate that mental health is at the bottom of the list of attitudes to disability (Scope 2014).
“Diversity is hard work. It’s much harder to understand others who are different.’”(IVE staff)
Larna Campbell gave us time to discuss and think about times outside of work when we had been involved in a diverse group, to think about the nature of the activity we were involved in and what the diversity of the group brought to the activity. This was very helpful given our current work situation is typical of the wider arts industry e.g. white and middle class.
“Good art regardless of culture is important. The artwork might not be culturally diverse but it is because I made it and have had culturally diverse influences.” Balbir Singh
Balbir Singh helped us see that cultural diversity is about much more than the nature of diversity itself – it’s about what different people bring to the art form.
After this meeting, we produced a series of plans to tackle the Creative Case for Diversity in IVE. This took the form of a series of top level values we wanted to embody as well as specific, practical steps we intend to take.
“I gained an understanding of different peoples perspectives (colleagues and visitors) and benefitted from the opportunity to think more deeply about and discuss the issues.” (CapeUK staff member)
As an organisation as a whole we have committed to the following actions:
We recognised the need to be overt about diversity until everyone automatically works and thinks that way. So we have agreed individual and team-based diversity-related objectives, such as:
Following our experience of the Reflective Diversity Lab process there is now a much more open culture/conversation amongst staff about diversity in general. It is ok to talk about things that might previously have not been understood, appreciated or ‘ok’ to share.
“I feel that my understanding of diversity strengthened, regarding how broad diversity really is. The sessions enabled me to adopt a more in depth thought process around diversity and analyse diversity issues beyond how I was approaching them before.” (IVE staff member)
We made changes to our Recruitment Policy, removing the need for a degree for example, and saw an 18% increase in BME applicants as a result. Changes to our recruitment process have led to a continued increase in diverse applicants and a subsequent increase in conversion to employment with IVE – 11% of staff were in protected characteristics categories in January 2016 compared to 23% in February 2018. Similarly, planned changes to our Absence Management policy have enabled us to retain staff with physical and mental disabilities. In addition, our CEO is actively seeking more diverse Trustee representation on our board.
Since 2016 we have developed and delivered the first 2 of what will be termly Inclusion & Diversity Labs which we have offered to NPOs/MPMs and other arts and cultural organisations aiming for at least 72 of them to engage in the same process we underwent over the coming few years.
Over four sessions, attendees will come together with other NPO representatives to explore how inclusion and diversity is approached within their respective organisations, and learn how to get to grips with the Creative Case for Diversity and what it means for their work and their organisation moving forward. The lab process is helping them to explore diversity in the work they do with, by and for children and young people in a way that is relevant and sustainable to their organisation. They are learning from each other, from case studies, from the alumni from previous lab groups and from examples of best practice over the course of the four sessions. Participants are enabled to discover their own unconscious biases in a safe space, to identify and work on their own action plans over the course of the lab process focussing on how they can really make a difference for their organisation long term.
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