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Jenny Williams says it’s time to stop ‘parachuting in’ arts projects to diverse communities and instead to support those communities to take the lead

You know the old adage, you wait for a bus and then three come along at the same time, well it seems the same has happened in diversity. Only this time it is three diversity juggernauts – the Creative Case for Diversity, Arts Council England’s (ACE) new approach to diversity in the arts; the Equality Act 2010; and the newly instated Public Sector Duty. But what exactly are they and how might the frameworks they provide influence new practice in relation to arts diversity?

In The Creative Case for Diversity, for me a few things stand out. Firstly, that ACE’s vision includes socio-economic impact; that this is not a policy but an ‘approach’; and finally, that there are three inter-connected themes: equality (removing barriers), recognition (placing diverse artists at the heart of British art) and a new vision (re-imagining diversity away from the ‘deficit model’, meaning that diversity is seen as neither a negative nor a ‘problem’). The latter can only benefit the arts. For too many years there has been an over-preoccupation with identifying problems within diverse communities and trying to solve them by ‘parachuting in’ arts projects. This need to ‘educate’ diverse communities is a top-down approach and serves as a barrier between communities and the work – so it is about time that the door is closed to that era.

Optimistically, The Creative Case could enable the arts sector to emerge from this thinking, with a more innovative approach to diversity practice. It is a concern though that the collective responsibility for delivering a diverse landscape in the arts is being left to trust. Over the years, our sector has learnt about the various cases for diversity, from the moral to the business to the legal, and now the creative case. Will this approach work where others have failed? We have to use all these cases to make diversity in the arts finally work, because outside of our sector the legal and social climate for equality has changed.

Equality law has been strengthened, and public bodies have been given new responsibilities under a legal framework. In October 2010 the Equality Act came into force, heralding the biggest changes in anti-discrimination law this country has ever seen. The Act harmonises nine pieces of primary and over a hundred pieces of secondary law, aiming to making it easier to understand and more importantly, easier to implement. It introduces us to new language, describing those that the law protects as having ‘protected characteristics’. We are all part of the equality equation, and the reader will be hard pressed not to be able to identify with at least one of these characteristics, perhaps even two. There are several new areas in the Act, though the Coalition Government has dropped measures around socio-economic impact (which interestingly, ACE has included in its vision), equal pay and legislation on Dual Discrimination.

The Public Sector Duty was introduced on 5 April 2011 with specific duties that came into force in September. Under this Duty, public bodies (including schools) are now required to publish equality objectives and details of how they have performed against them.

So what will the new equality framework mean to the arts sector? Of interest is what appears to be a new focus on outcome. It is less about what we do – the output – and more about how we do it, and to what measurable impact. In the arts, we tend to focus on outputs, rather than outcomes. The outcome of our collective work in diversity has produced little change – in staff representation within arts institutions; within the funding system; within programming; and within the hierarchal debate of how we define quality. In fact, we could argue, that the sector’s diversity output has served society by reinforcing the gap between the ‘haves’ and the ‘have nots’. The haves are enabled to enjoy the arts aesthetically; can define what excellent art is; and can control what and who should be seen and heard. The have nots are systematically ‘educated’ according to their protected characteristic, or kept out of the arts infrastructure by issues ranging from quality to management, to capacity, to aesthetic. Will the sector now be bold enough to start a new conversation around cultural inequality? Can it follow the lead of the Public Sector Duty to explore and measure collective outcomes? Can it identify how barriers operate and to what effect? Will it choose to harness the Creative Case? Or will it simply put together a diversity strategy and deliver more education programmes?

It is time now for work in our diverse communities to be led by those organisations that can show representation from those communities. If a predominantly White-led institution wishes to engage with its Black and minority ethnic communities then shouldn’t we invite the community to lead, originate and own an idea, and take a role to support it – not the other way round? This approach will enable organisations to harness the talent of creative producers as ‘agents of change’, to develop and devise programmes of work from a different perspective, whatever that perspective may be. There may be a shortage of diverse talent working within our arts institutions, but there is no shortage of diverse talent operating as freelancers, working resiliently, without funding, without sustainable networks and without the resource of a building or infrastructure.

It really is time for a new dialogue and sustainable change.

Protected Characteristics under the 2010 the Equality Act:

• Age

• Disability

• Gender reassignment

• Marriage and civil partnership

• Pregnancy and maternity

• Race

• Religion and belief

• Sex

• Sexual orientation

The Public Sector Duty requires public bodies, including schools, to pay ‘due regard’ to these:

• Eliminate unlawful discrimination, harassment and victimisation and other conduct prohibited by the Act

• Advance equality of opportunity between people who share a protected characteristic and those who do not

• Foster good relations between people who share a protected characteristic and those who do not

E jenny@takethespace.com
T 01323 639610
w www.takethespace.com
TW @jennyspacer

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Photo of Jenny Williams