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Could the Inquiry unearth a new way of approaching diversity for the arts sector?

We have been very heartened that a couple of people from the arts sector have written to us about diversity since we launched, as it is something we are concerned about as well.
Posted by Sam Cairns

Having a diversity of ethnicity, gender, age, sexuality and disability in workforce, audience and programming is essential for arts organisations, and the diversity of each of these things are all inter-related. There are clear economic reasons for having this diversity of people and programmes, but more compelling are the moral. If arts organisations exist for the public benefit as charities, or funded by public money, then they have to serve all of their public, and two things are clear; overall arts organisations are not as diverse as the audiences they serve and something has to change.

Over the last 15 years there has been much work to increase the diversity of the sector in a variety of ways. There has been a focus on workforce and audiences and on the content of exhibitions and productions. However according to the statistics collated by the Arts Council England’s Creative Case for Diversity the issue remains a stubborn problem.

When we look at diversity through the prism of these statistics by the percentage of people with disabilities in the workforce, by ethnicity of audiences, by gender of leaders in the arts sector spaces we see a problem which we try and fix in a myriad of ways.

Would it be better to look at diversity in a different way?

The Inquiry has an Advisory Panel whose role is to check and challenge our work. We set out with the aim of pulling together a group of people who could meaningfully comment on the civic role of the arts across art form and audience and who understood the wider civic society sector. We were clear the Panel needed to include voices from all communities, with a diversity of ethnicity, gender, age, sexuality and disability.

We have been working hard to ensure we have a range of people from different backgrounds involved and we will be recruiting more panel members, but it is worth noting we have struggled.

The panel is balanced by gender but is still not as diverse as we would like it to be in other ways. Which has led us to ask the question what is the best approach to take when trying to form groups with diverse perspectives?

Through the Inquiry we will be taking a future focus and hope to create an opportunity to think about why arts organisations exist in the public sphere and what they hope to achieve. How they reflect and serve their communities will be part of this. So, could the inquiry have the potential to unearth a new way of approaching the question of diversity for the sector? We know society is only going to become more diverse, and the risk is increasingly fragmented as well. Diversity is a key challenge for the arts sector.

Should the Inquiry seek to understand diversity differently in the context of the arts? Do we need to develop new ways of seeing diversity or does that risk us continuing to fail certain groups because we aren’t focused on how they are involved? These are questions we hope to tackle over the course of the Inquiry.

If you want to join this conversation, please get in touch via email and on twitter. We will also be running workshops over the summer which we will list in future newsletters.


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