The collaborative seeks to address barriers to diversity across artforms and protected characteristics, rather than through piecemeal initiatives.
Major UK arts organisations are joining forces to create a "manifesto for inclusion" that addresses entrenched inequality in the creative and cultural sectors.
Inc Arts, a grassroots partnership that includes One Dance UK, UK Theatre, Society of London Theatre, Creative Visual Arts Network, National Theatre and National Opera Studio, is seeking workers with protected characteristics and those from low income backgrounds to help shape the document at a free four-hour workshop later this month.
The collaborative believes the initiative is a first for the arts and cultural sector: it will work across art forms and protected characteristics to craft a programme of change focused on the arts workforce, rather than artistic creation. It aims to bring together people who are "not just committed to the idea of change, but want to take action to make it happen".
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Inc Arts Director Amanda Parker, who also edits ArtsProfessional, said the partnership wants to work with everyone who brings audiences to the arts – including administrators, managers, marketing teams, outreach and learning teams – to effect systemic change. The collective is also undertaking research into the factors that inhibit change with the Bridge Group, a recent research partner in diversity-related studies by the BBC and Jerwood Arts.
"For too long I’ve been part of – and witness to – conversations in the sector about inclusion that never get heard by the organisations we work in. It’s not surprising; workers fear repercussions or [their] careers being affected, Parker said.
She said it was fantastic to have support to "create our collective voice" independently of any one employer.
"Without changing the picture of who’s working behind the scenes we’re not going to achieve lasting change on stage, on screen, nor will we get curated content that resonates with a wider and diverse audience."
Failure to effect change
Diversity initiatives are widespread in the arts and cultural sector - and yet many fall short of their goals. Recent projects have highlighted barriers for Black and Minority Ethnic (BME) cultural workers and people from lower socio-economic backgrounds and campaigner Andrew Miller has written extensively on the immovability of "institutional ableism" in the arts and cultural sector.
Recent analysis by ArtsProfessional found that arts organisations led by BME and disabled people were less likely than other organisations to be successful when applying for Arts Council England’s (ACE) National Lottery Project Grants in 2018/19. Fundraising can also be more difficult for diverse-led organisations.
By giving workers space to confidentially share their thoughts and experiences, Inc Arts hopes to identify issues that workers won't share with their bosses and tackle the root causes of the sector's diversity woes – rather than addressing it piece by piece.
One Dance UK Chief Executive Andrew Hurst said diversity initiatives often fail to be "truly intersectional", focussing only on a specific area of the sector or a specific protected characteristic.
"We recognise and celebrate the specific needs and strengths of different art forms, but it’s about time we looked at what we have in common – what we need in common – irrespective of whether we are talking about disability, ethnicity, sexual preference or anything else.”
Julian Bird, Chief Executive of the Society of London Theatre and UK Theatre, said the grassroots, ground-up approach Inc Arts is taking is key to making meaningful improvements to diversity: "change is most effective when it’s informed by those with lived experience, not when it’s directed from ‘on high’"
The workshop to develop the Inclusive Arts Manifesto is free to attend at Somerset House on 20 February.