What are Northern NPOs doing to Complete the Creative Case for Diversity?

24th April 2018 - Sarah Mumford

IVE Cultural Education Director Sarah Mumford attended 2 events organised by Creative Case North (CCN) to see how northern NPOs are taking steps to meet the goals of the Arts Council’s Creative Case for Diversity. This is her report.

Creative Case North (CCN) is the Arts Council England (ACE) funded sector-led consortium of arts and cultural organisations with a membership from across the north including: ARC StocktonBALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art, Sustained Theatre Artists Yorkshire, Contemporary Visual Arts NetworkHallé Concert SocietyCurious MindsOpera NorthZENDEHDaDaFestContact TheatreTim WheelerGemArts and ARTLINK Centre for Community Arts. The CCN consortium aims to generate new ways of working that help diversify arts and culture and those that deliver it, to better reflect Britain in the 21st Century. CCN facilitates sector-led dialogue and focused work around diversity and the Creative Case, sharing good practice that shows the impact of diversity for the arts and culture sector as a whole.

“The Creative Case for Diversity is a way of exploring how organisations and artists can enrich the work they do by embracing a wide range of influences and practices. We believe that embracing the Creative Case helps organisations not only enrich their work, but also address other challenges and opportunities in audience development, public engagement, workforce and leadership.” – Arts Council England

CCN recently held two events aimed at Senior Internal Creative Case champions. The first was for those Arts Council funded National Portfolio Organisations in Bands 2 (receiving £250k- £1m) & 3 (receiving over £1m) and was held in the Hospitium in York Museums Gardens. The latter was held in the National Centre for Early Music for NPOs in Band 1 (receiving £40k – £249k). Both events followed the same format. The CCN chair introduced the events and explained the history, development and goals for NPOs in 2018-22 in relation to the Creative Case for Diversity. ACE representatives then outlined the key Creative Case responsibilities and requirements for NPOs, explaining how they would be monitored on their Creative Case for Diversity activity over the coming year. Best practice case study presentations then followed with presenters sharing their organisation’s Creative Case journeys so far in relation to programming and organisational approaches. Roundtable discussions allowed participants to actively consider their current positions in relation to the Creative Case and to identify their next steps towards achieving their Creative Case goals.

Arts Council England explained that the Creative Case for NPOs was about ensuring that the work they presented reached a wider range of people by ensuring that it was produced by and with a wider range of people. Whilst a diverse workforce and diverse governance are key aims, NPOs were encouraged to start with the work they are presenting. They have to change what they do. In 2018-19 they will be assessed on a 4-point scale of Not Yet Met, Met, Strong and Outstanding. Those receiving Met will have to move on and develop further with all organisations needing to achieve the Strong rating by 2021. NPOs were advised to look at the Relationship Framework on the ACE website for what they need to provide as evidence. ACE will be looking at what happens with programmes, collections & the artists they are working with.

Sheffield Theatres, BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art, Venture Arts and Artlink presented case studies interspersed with roundtable discussions for participants to explore ideas that emerged from the presentations.

Sheffield Theatres wanted to better reflect the diversity of Sheffield on their stages, in their audiences and amongst their workforce. They made a commitment to gender balanced casting and now have ethnicity and disability targets.  Working with the Ramps on the Moon consortium they bring at least one production to the Crucible stage each year that is balanced in terms of disabled and non-disabled cast and creatives. They appointed an Agent for Change – Javaad Alipoor – as Associate Director – to guide, challenge and support them to be more representative of disability across all areas of their company. In addition, they recruited three positive action traineeships – one in programming, one in the technical team and one in events management. They revised recruitment policies, devised new projects aimed at BAME or disabled participants, worked in areas of low engagement, sought visiting work from diverse companies, reduced prices, established a bursary scheme and trained staff in Disability and Equality, Diversity, Deaf Awareness and Gendered Intelligence. As a result of this work they now include socio-economic diversity within the workforce too. Their casting is now gender balanced which is influencing the programme and vice-versa. They are proactively diversifying their writers and creative teams. Their workforce is currently 7% BAMER (from 3% at outset) and 9% (from 2% at outset) identify as disabled. One of the key elements of this programme was the introduction of a way of talking about ethnic diversity that includes referring to ‘whiteness’, developing a culture where staff were comfortable describing work as ‘white’, knowing that doesn’t mean that it can’t be done but that over seasons balance must be found. They also had workshops on the politics of diversity. Sheffield Theatres stressed that this change takes time, that leadership and communication is vital and that it’s important to chart the journey and monitor and evaluate progress.

The BALTIC saw the Creative Case as a mission critical element of all that they do and developed a manifesto that expressed who they want to be in the world, what they believe and their values. They developed a mission that puts diversity at the core of their intrinsic purpose – with an imperative to support the full breadth and ambition of diverse artists whose ideas have power, relevance and meaning in people’s lives and the potential to change thinking and practice. Their approach aims to challenge and empower as they support diverse artists to expand and push their practice and launched in 2016 with a focus on gender identity and disability. They wanted to create a means of exploration of the world from the perspective of diverse artists. They work in partnership with Amnesty International who support their staff to develop knowledge and thinking. They have moved from having equality champions to a more embedded open approach across staff and trustees, providing a space for engagement and debate – where all staff are champions and advocates for diversity. BALTIC will be working with the national network of six Band 3 Visual Arts organisations to develop a plan for sector support, including a plan to improve engagement with the Creative Case. They acknowledged the challenge re data collection in relation to socio-economic disadvantage.

Venture Arts – a Manchester based visual arts studio – gave an overview of their ACE Grants for the Arts funded programme Outsiderxchanges. Venture Arts work with learning disabled artists to create new contemporary art in Hulme. Working predominantly with people with protected characteristics they are focused on removing barriers so people can add vibrancy, life, different perspectives, sometimes challenging, to our shared culture to make it a better place for all of us. The Outsiderxchanges project saw 10 artists collaborating – 5 were learning disabled. Artists worked together in a studio where the equal exchange of ideas and talents were at the forefront. The learning disabled artists invited emerging contemporary artists to work with them – making the invited artists the artists from the outside – or ‘outsider’ artists. The project was process driven – and looked at the way the artists and project developed. All the artists involved reported that the project has changed and influenced their practice going forward and the resultant work reached wide audiences. Partnerships with Castlefield Gallery and BALTIC were key elements of the project in terms of finding shared studio and exhibition space and increasing staff knowledge within partner organisations re working with learning disabled artists.  The work was shown at BALTIC, the Manchester Contemporary art gallery, at Whitworth Late and at DadaFest International. The project will also be presented at the International Outsider Art Conference in Chichester with a piece from the show being considered for a commercial show in June 2018 alongside established contemporary artists. Venture Arts stressed that great art can be made by taking risks, by stepping out of comfort zones and traditional ways of working.

The final presentation was from the director of Artlink, a small, socially funded art charity in Hull, whose purpose is to explore art and community. The director described the process he took the organisation through to make the arts more diverse at Artlink. Staff were asked to read the ACE publication ‘What is the Creative Case for Diversity?’ 

One member of staff was tasked with doing further research on the Creative Case and presenting their findings alongside the director who brought points, learning and ideas back and forth to and from the Creative Case North steering group of which he is a member. Staff, Board and volunteers then all underwent training to expand their thinking around Artlink’s past and present programme and its relationship to CCD and contemporary society and communities in relation to the arts. They asked ‘What do we want to achieve in relation to the CCD?’ CCD was considered as part of their aims, values, artistic strategy and business plan. It impacted on their core mission: ‘to increase the diversity of the voices in the arts’. The CCD formed part of all discussions about the programme and organisational development and has been embedded in the business plan with SMART targets set for their programme activities as well as staff and board recruitment, staff training and communications. They want to create opportunities within their programme for communities and individuals experiencing disadvantage, particularly disabled people and people experiencing socio-economic deprivation and commitments have been made to do this annually. Artlink are focussing on what they do and why in relation to their core aims and objectives. They will measure progress against their targets, updating them as needed as time goes by. Diversity is embedded in the agenda at their regular Organisational Development meetings with some meetings focussing specifically on CCD and their work in relation to it. CCD is now also a standing item at Board meetings. Their aims for 2018-19 include: delivering a Square Peg bursary commission for a disabled artist in the North; creating a significant exhibition exploring the ideas of Mad Pride with local artists, activists and community members; increasing Disability Arts Network meetings to 6 per year and giving it a greater public profile; and developing creative opportunities for local people in East and West Hull.

Following the presentations discussion time gave those present the chance to talk to each other about what they valued and found interesting about the presentations. IVE were able to share details of our new Diversity and Inclusion Labs that are open to any arts organisations wishing to take time out to explore their next steps on the Creative Case journey in relation to their work with, by and for children and young people in particular. These labs provide new space for small groups of arts and cultural organisations to come together, with structured support, to get to grips with the Creative Case for Diversity, and explore ways that inclusion and diversity are approached in their respective organisations. As a group of peers, this is a space to have open and honest conversations, share experiences and learn together. You will be supported to explore diversity in the work you do with, by and for children and young people in a way that is relevant to you and sustainable for your organisation.

For anyone interested in engaging further with the Creative Case there is an event at The Whitworth on 25th May: Making the Case: Symposium on breaking down the barriers to culture and heritage places and spaces for learning disabled people.

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