Adam Taylor, an organiser of the NewHorizons16 conference on diversity and inclusion, responds to one of the day’s themes: opportunities are not open to everyone in the arts because white, middle-class, middle-aged men stand in the way.
To those angry at me,
"White, middle-class, middle-aged, hetero man is to blame.” These words resonate with me as I sit in an auditorium listening to a discussion about inclusivity, looking and sounding the way I do. My skin starts to crawl. “White, middle-class, middle-aged, hetero man is the reason we’re in the mess we’re in.” Am I feeling guilty as a white, middle-class, middle-aged, hetero man? No, I’m angry.
I have not had to fight the battles you have, I have not hit the glass ceilings you have…
Your assumption that I was recruited to my position by people that look and sound like me frustrates me. But this is not my battle and not why we have assembled members of the sector together. We have done this to learn, to get better and to make sure that the next generation of artists don’t face the same challenges that you did. That’s why you are here, invited by this white, middle-class, middle-aged hetero man.
I am not a wordsmith, a poet, a writer or an artist. But I do have tools, I have a craft, but these don’t give me the skills to challenge you. I open my mouth but no words come out. Cheers and applause resonate across this auditorium in defiance to the empire-building patriarchy.
In this cacophony of noise comes the thought that you have had these conversations time and time again and you are well rehearsed in your rhetoric, while I am not. I have not had to fight the battles you have, I have not hit the glass ceilings you have and I have not sat in the theatres and asked where my stories are. My anger dissipates.
My commitment here today is to collate a manifesto of pledges from individuals and organisations that surround us. To listen and to learn, to ask and to challenge. So I wanted to share with you the things that I am taking away from today, those key messages that continue to bounce around my skull long after they have left your lips.
‘Deep hanging out’ is a new concept on me. As you utter the words, I watch the sea of heads ripple with nods of agreement. What a thought, to give ourselves the permission to be, to observe, to be with those communities around us.
To have no agenda other than to be with them for a sustained time, to move beyond a ‘them and me’ towards an ‘us’. That community of age, race, class, religion or postcode. To accept that previously I have looked but haven’t seen, that I have listened but haven’t heard. I take this tool into my craft.
I’m not the white, middle-class, middle-aged, hetero man I am painted to be
The next is a chant that breaks out in the protest rally in my mind. Your call to arms ‘Less aspiration and more action’ is simple and elegant. It is I suppose a call to stop the repeat of the very conversation we are having. You repeat ‘Less aspiration and more action’, the chorus builds in my mind as you ask about the endless talking.
I am afraid to admit that in some cases this is the first time I have had these frank conversations. I pacify the crowds in my mind as I have started this action today. A day focussed around conversation, I grant you, but conversations that will, from this one individual at least, lead to action. We will start changing – now.
This starts by ‘Finding the elephant in the room’, the things we’re not talking about, the faces and bodies that we don’t see in our space – as audiences, participants, staff or trustees. I will find them, spend time with them and get them to shape what ‘us’ is. I remove my rose-tinted glasses as I cast my eye across the present us, and your words echo. We are not doing enough. We are not doing enough.
I will share what we are doing, I will share our journey. Not as pride, or to prove to you, but to provoke change in those around us to help you raise the bar on what’s acceptable. Because we are stronger together. We want our stage to tell different stories so we need you to keep telling your tales for new audiences to experience – and those you inspire to then tell their stories.
We talk of labels and I feel this is dangerous ground. I’m not the white, middle-class, middle-aged, hetero man I am painted to be. It’s really easy to judge by appearances, but this is a two-way street. These labels are not helpful if they are going to put up barriers to affecting more lasting change across our sector.
Don’t judge me – help me. I don’t want the next generation to be sitting in their theatres thinking “Where are my stories?” I remind you, I am not a wordsmith, a poet, a writer or an artist. But I do have tools, I have a craft, and I am going to use them to make change, standing by your side.
Adam Taylor is Executive Director of The Garage.