Imagine yourself as a fly on the wall of a typical arts organisation?s board meeting. Chances are you?ll find a group of informed, committed and influential people, writes Steve Ball. But how representative are they likely to be of the communities their organisations serve? If Birmingham is anything to go by, white, middle-aged men would outnumber people from Black and Minority Ethnic (BME) communities, people with disabilities and young people.
As part of an initiative to address this issue, Birmingham City Council has piloted a programme over two years to place young people, aged 18 to 24, on the boards of arts organisations. Initially, a range of organisations from throughout the city was consulted, of which 15 expressed an interest in recruiting young people for their boards. A residential weekend training programme was designed for 12 candidate board members. The programme had two components: a course to provide people with information about the roles and responsibilities of boards and board members, and an introduction to the work and management structures of a range of arts organisations in Birmingham. Directors, chairs and board members from Birmingham arts organisations took part in panel discussions with the young people.
The young people who completed the course were then matched with arts organisations and provided with a mentor from the board of that organisation. There was a significant difference in the success rate of the first and second years. In the first year (2002) only six of the twelve participants expressed an interest in joining a board after the training programme and of those six, only two took up places on the boards of arts organisations. The second year (2003), however, proved much more successful with thirteen of the fourteen participants completing the course and expressing an interest in joining a board. Eleven now sit on the board or youth board of an arts organisation ? including the Birmingham REP, mac (Midlands Arts Centre), and Artsites.
The programme not only had an immediate effect upon the confidence and skills base of the participants, but also impacted constructively on the arts organisations they joined. Dorothy Wilson, Director of mac commented, ?The energy and spirit of enquiry which these two young women have brought to the Board?s deliberations have caused us all to think hard about the way in which the Board works? It has also been tremendous to have at the table people who can help reflect the views and experience of younger people, who, after all, make up a very significant proportion of our users and, indeed, our workforce.?
Steve Ball was Head of Arts for Birmingham City Council and is now Education Director at the Birmingham REP. t: 0121 245 2091; e: firstname.lastname@example.org