Federation Diversity Spotlight: 3. Lilli Geissendorfer on including equality and diversity in the arts

January 07, 2021

In the latest of our Diversity & Inclusion member spotlight series, we catch up with Jerwood Arts Director, Lilli Geissendorfer. We chat to Lilli at an exciting time for the established arts organisation, as it launches a number of new projects and programmes, one of which is creating 50 new salaried fellowships within the industry for 2021. During this period of realisation, acceleration and evolution, Jerwood Arts is supporting the arts and cultural sector to address issues such as socio-economic diversity and inclusion, and positive change around recruitment.

Lilli Geissendorfer

Fed: Tell us more about what Jerwood Arts is and its creative ethos…

Lilli: Jerwood Arts is an independent charitable foundation, established around 20 years ago by the  Jerwood Foundation to support artists’ career development. Our focus is still to support early-career artists to develop and thrive, and our support is weighted towards funding professional development, mentoring and coaching, research and development of new ideas and first stages of making and creating new work.

We fund across all art forms - from music, literature and theatre to dance, opera and poetry - using the income from an endowment. Each year (in pre-COVID times), we fund around £1 million worth of projects to organisations and individuals. This includes our dedicated visual arts programme in the galleries at Jerwood Space in London, where we curate year round exhibitions and events which tour nationally as well.

We are an unusual, hybrid organisation because alongside the awards and funding we offer and the exhibitions and events programme, we also design national-scale programmes ourselves, where we partner with other funders and organisations to deliver support to artists and arts organisations. The largest of these is currently the Weston Jerwood Creative Bursaries programme. So we’re a very hands-on funder and my team are very grounded in connecting with artists and arts organisations.

Fed: Tell us more about your Equality, Diversity and Inclusion plan - how did it evolve in 2020?

Lilli: I started here in January 2018 and there was already a focus on Equality, Diversity and Inclusion at the time and over the last few years, I think it has become ever-more important to us. We really want to educate ourselves and understand what it means to practice equality and diversity in the arts; to really listen and look and understand what’s happening on the ground within arts organisations and understand how we can best support that. This year [2020] brought about a deep reckoning within the arts, particularly since June in the aftermath of the killing of George Floyd in the States. Black Lives Matter’s resurgence in public consciousness has been fundamental to enable us all to talk more openly and honestly with our partners and organisations about what we all want to do, what the challenges are and how we might overcome them.

So this year, we took time to review our EDI action plans and policies, evolving them, sharing them with our trustees and ensuring that they stay ‘live’ and have real impact within our work. For example, we reviewed our marketing strategies before our most recent open calls, and we invited one of our artist advisers with expertise on inclusion to be a ‘critical friend’ as we reworked our job packs and recruitment process earlier this autumn. We also started a fortnightly anti-racism reading group which has been a real highlight for us as a small team to learn together. The other thing we’ve focused on more is the need to stay alert to what’s happening across the sector. We like to think of ourselves as a responsive funder and flexible to the current context and we’re certainly in a much more open space than we were ten months ago - that has helped us have all kinds of different conversations.

Weston Jerwood Creative Bursaries at Chapter Arts, Cardiff, 2019. Image Tim Dickeson

Image: Tim Dickeson

Fed: What is Jerwood Arts doing to support artists from lower socio-economic backgrounds? 

Lilli: Supporting greater socio-economic diversity and inclusion is an essential part of our work. Latest Labour Force Survey data and research by the PEC (Policy and Evidence Centre) shows that people from lower socio-economic backgrounds still aren’t represented in the arts as fairly they should be and face barriers because of their class origins. Jerwood Arts has been running a programme called the Weston Jerwood Creative Bursaries since 2010 led by Kate Danielson, in partnership with a number of  amazing funders, that has been really focused on getting those from lower socio-economic backgrounds into the arts, and then progressing their careers. We have just started the fourth edition of it after having to put the start on hold due to COVID.

There are 50 extraordinary arts organisations right across the UK who have all applied to be part of the programme with an agenda for change in their organisation and an incredible early-career Fellowship role for an artist and/or creative. The way the programme works is twofold. It collaborates with these 50 Host organisations to support them to make their practices more inclusive, and alongside this organisational change focus, each Host also employs a Fellow: a year-long salaried job for an early-career artists and creatives which includes a wraparound cohort-based leadership development programme and mentoring. Those 50 jobs are funded up to 90% by the programme and we worked with the organisations to unpack their recruitment processes and put them back together again, understanding socio-economic background and the role it plays.

Mandeep Glover and Simon Panayi, 2019. Image Tim Dickeson, 2019. Chapter Arts Centre, Cardiff

Image: Tim Dickeson

Fed: What project or accomplishment have you been most proud of during 2020?

Lilli: I think the thing I’m most proud of is how we’ve gone out to other arts funders and said okay look, here’s what we think would make a real difference right now. One of our USPs is that we can fund individuals and a lot of other arts funders can only support established organisations or registered charities. I’m really proud that we’ve brought together a number of funders and used a collaborative model to work together and put £660,000 on the table through a call for applications as the Live Work Fund for freelance artists, musicians, theatre makers, choreographers and others whose practice is focused on live work and performance and whose incomes rely on making live work. Working interactively and at speed, we have committed to making decisions and putting money in artists’ pockets before Christmas, and while the sheer number of applications means there will be a lot of disappointment too, I am proud that in this very tough year we have continued to find new, responsive ways to fulfil our mission.

Fed: How do you hope to see access and inclusion within the arts change over the next 5 years?

Lilli: I hope the energy for change galvanised by COVID and BLM over the past months doesn’t disappear. I feel there’s a sense across the sector right now of ‘if not now, when?’ and that change must happen. It’s an extremely difficult context with COVID but I have been part of and witness to the start of some fantastic conversations and I think the silver lining is that there’s now a real appetite for making change happen and not just talking about change. I just hope that endures.

To stay up to date with the work that Lilli and the rest of the Jerwood Arts team are doing, head to https://jerwoodarts.org/ or follow the organisation on Instagram and Twitter @Jerwoodarts, and find Lilli in on Twitter @LilliG.

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