Recently, diversity has been on the arts agenda again. ACE are commissioning a Rapid Evidence Assessment on equality and diversity in the arts - an exercise they would like us to support - see here for details. This is on the back of Diversity, Equality and the Creative Case, published in 2014 and new funding streams to support diversity in the arts, opened in January 2016, which promises to invest £8.5mill over the next three years.
The question is, how, or why, did the diversity agenda ever slip off the agenda, in such a way as to make this recent highlighting of the issues of diversity in our sector feel almost new? Pioneering work had been done across the sector in supporting and nurturing diverse talent, developing diverse audiences and broadening understanding of what art was. There also began to be a sense that that work had been done, the sector and the audiences were changing, and in Great Art and Culture for Everyone, published by ACE in 2010, there was a move towards incorporating the diversity agenda within broader aims of engaging everyone and, indeed, anyone.
However, in changing the focus of broad engagement, we are now starting to see some stagnation in our sector with diversity, and particularly ethnic diversity, being seen as lacking. In Birmingham, my home city, this was written about by Rebecca Hemmings in Arts Professional, in an article titled, Birmingham's Big Problem. She explores the issues the city's art sector faces and says, "there is a lot of pent-up frustration, in the black community in particular. Many are tired of being the role model, perpetually raising the issue and then facing barriers." This, in the context of a city where The Drum, a flagship arts centre for diverse arts and audiences, has just closed down.
Those of us who worked in the field of diversity in the arts, understood that the organisations that were best at welcoming, supporting and including a range of communities were those that integrated diversity at the very heart of what they do and which were committed to diversity in the long term. What we now understand is that commitment to diversity has to be explicit, not integrated into a general 'we're for anyone' message, and that if neglected the gains that were made are in danger of remaining exceptions to a largely unchanged mainstream.
We are in a world where cultural complexity is back in the agenda. Since Great Art and Culture for Everyone was published in 2010, the world and the UK have changed and a lot of that change has been for the better. Diverse communities of all sorts have been empowered by new legislation, such as Same Sex marriage, and one of the outcomes of the Brexit vote will be a wide debate and, hopefully, a better understanding of how our diverse communities make up the UK and affect all of our identities. It is time for us to get back behind the diversity agenda, and try to make our sector a model for the future.
See how I help organisations develop more diverse audiences, and contact me for more information or to talk about how I could work with you.