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The latest in a series of closures of organisations supporting and advocating for diverse groups is cause for concern, writes Amanda Parker

Simeilia Hodge Dalloway
Simeilia Hodge-Dalloway, founder of Artistic Directors of the Future

The announcement of Artistic Directors of the Future’s pending closure follows news of Manchester’s Regional Young Directors Scheme losing NPO status, theatre inclusion advocates Act for Change winding up, and both Sour Lemons and Inc Arts UK’s closures in 2022. 
The closures of these schemes come at a time when Arts Council England (ACE) has made visible efforts to make their National Portfolio of funded organisations more inclusively reflective of the UK’s diversity. Sector support has increased in pockets: around disability, neurodiversity and mental health wellbeing – areas which have been, historically, chronically under-resourced, and in demand.
But here’s a strange trend: we are welcoming diverse-led organisations into the arts ecology and at the same time witnessing a contraction of support available to ensure those organisations thrive. 
What does this mean for sector resilience? And what does it say about the sector itself?

Moving roles in-house or job done?

There has been a widespread increase in roles leading on inclusion, diversity and equity. Witness the Wellcome Trust’s vacancy for a Chief Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Director which, with an advertised annual salary of more than £200,000, will place their EDI lead’s earnings in the top 10% of salaried jobs in the arts and cultural sector. 
EDI freelancers are busy but, increasingly, EDI posts are being created in-house. EDI is now an accepted part of organisational capacity and resilience building. The sector is cognisant of the need for greater care, and in-house (or brought-in) support works to embed inclusive principles in arts environments. 
But if you conflate the rise in EDI hiring with the decrease in sector support around inclusion then you risk reaching the wrong conclusion and missing some pretty major alarm bells. 

What we’re missing

There are several factors to keep in mind in assessing the potential impact of losing yet more valuable sector support organisations. 
Firstly, it took a global pandemic for us to recognise the blindingly obvious: that much of the cultural sector’s intelligence sits with individuals and in small groups because we are a predominantly self-employed industry. That means the detail about cultures and behaviours in work environments and the challenges of programme building, finance and resource management falls through the gaps - or sits in silos. 
The corollary: the networks that grew in the necessity of pandemic shared that intelligence and made collective action possible. Those networks were vital then – and are never more needed as the global economy and environment creaks and strains. 
The second factor is one of capacity and resilience. Doing EDI well carries a significant toll on those seeking to support others on a journey of organisational change. I say ‘doing EDI well’ because the outcomes are only as good as the people in the room shaping those outcomes. And that applies to both delivery and participation in EDI engagement. 

A four hour anti-racism workshop is not going to change the world. It’s a starting point not the destination. And employing someone in-house to absorb the heartache when inclusion is not going well, where the organisation isn’t truly committing to systemic change – let’s just say it’s money hard-earned. Keep an eye on those EDI leaders. Any time now, they may be needing a sector support agency to have their backs…

Working from the margins

Being from a marginalised community brings an additional toll - the daily friction of navigating prejudice and assumptions. Think of it as an extra thick layer spread on top of the layer of challenges leaders already manage. 

And more, marginalised leaders work from the margins and this frequently, almost automatically, includes working with smaller budgets, greater time constraints, less operational capacity and high demand. Diverse-led organisations typically ask for - and receive - smaller grants. 

For black female leaders – as were the leaders of Sour Lemons, ADF and Inc Arts - there is a frankly shocking data on the likelihood of securing investment and so the challenges of sustaining a business are greatly increased. 

Missing the reality facing the marginalised

ACE needs these sector support agencies focused on inclusion. In a freelance industry it’s essential to collate, convene and share intelligence to build resilience and improve creative and business practice. The gaps in delivery will not serve the sector in the long run. 

Without the insights, training, solutions, advocacy and best practice collated and shared by sector support organisations, freelancers remain under-resourced, with limited agency as they’re corralled into silos. Without strong sector support, funding bodies are at risk of responding to the ‘known and loudest’ voices, missing the groundswell of reality facing those already marginalised.  

Those diverse leaders and organisations facing the most challenge don’t necessarily have the means (energy, capacity, agency) to advocate for change to those whose role it is to build and nurture sector growth. They’re too busy managing everything else. 
We need to keep a watching brief on those new NPOs forming mini-support networks in the absence of the sector support they need. I know of several who are clubbing together to stretch resource and share gleaned intelligence that will help them survive. 

And more: ACE needs to ensure the investment it has made in new organisations to increase diversity in its portfolio is framed securely by a means of building skills, capacity and resilience for those already carrying too much – and new to an already challenging ecosystem. 
Amanda Parker is a Creative Consultant and Director of Policy, Research & Communications at the Forward Institute. She founded Inc Arts UK.

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