The sector has voiced concerns about barriers facing diverse artists and the ‘ghettoisation’ of diverse art.

Photo of a man and woman on stage
Adjoa Andoh and Lucian Msamati in A Wolf in Snakeskin Shoes, Tricycle Theatre
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Mark Douet

UK arts workers have voted marginally in favour of introducing diversity quotas for artistic work in ArtsProfessional’s latest Pulse survey.

40% of the 509 UK-based respondents said quotas relating to artistic work or artists should definitely or probably be introduced, compared with 35% who said they should definitely not or probably not. 23% said they should possibly be introduced and the remaining 2% expressed no opinion.

The survey about attitudes towards diversity in the arts took place in June and July this year and the second report, which analyses respondents’ views on diversity in artistic work, was published this week.

Barriers to diversity

Respondents were divided about whether or not sufficient quality diverse artistic work is available: 33% said this was an issue that affected their organisation, 43% said it wasn’t; with the rest unsure.

Those working in the visual arts tended to more strongly disagree that there was a lack of diverse artistic work available, while those working in theatre tended to agree, and music workers were evenly split on the issue.

The majority (61%) agreed that ‘a shallow pool of diverse candidates for work opportunities’ was an issue facing their organisation. Some identified societal and economic barriers facing people from certain backgrounds looking to develop professional artistic practice, particularly those from low socio-economic backgrounds and disabled people.

Almost a third said their organisations lacked the expertise to increase diversity, while some also pointed to a lack of contacts and networking opportunities. 41% of respondents said their organisation lacked adequate funding to increase diversity.

Segregation of diverse art

The survey revealed widespread concerns amongst arts workers about the ‘ghettoisation’ of diverse art to certain organisations and its segregation within artistic programming.

One respondent wrote: “Diversity should not be ‘held’ in silo’ed ‘diverse’ organisations but embraced by all and that may mean some challenging discussions around what constitutes ‘art’ and how it is created, produced, distributed and shared and how we can re-frame it for the rapidly changing digital future.”

The findings suggest that to increase diversity in art, both the concept of what is art and in particular what constitutes ‘excellence’ in art, may need to be reconsidered. This was a view echoed by several respondents. One wrote: “Until we challenge the white middle class ‘hegemony’ in terms of what constitutes excellence in art, nothing will change.”

Improving diversity

Overall, the survey revealed a strong desire in the sector to improve artistic diversity: 57% said this was a top priority for their organisation and a further 28% said it was important.

As well as artistic quotas, there were calls for financial incentives for arts organisations to increase diversity and targeted initiatives to boost diversity in the arts. These included:

  • training and networking opportunities for arts workers;
  • more support for diverse artists to develop their practice;
  • funding to enable arts organisations to develop audiences;
  • and a drive to increase access to arts education for young people.

Click to read ArtsProfessional’s latest news, research and features on diversity in the arts

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A photo of Frances Richens