What works to support diversity in arts and culture? Insights from roundtable 5 of the APPG for Creative Diversity

By the APPG for Creative Diversity team

October 21, 2020

October was the fifth meeting of the APPG for Creative Diversity, concentrating on artistic and cultural organisations. This, like many other parts of creative industries, is a vast and varied sector, with a complex mix of funding and business models, organisations of differing sizes, and freelancers and the permanently employed.

As we’ve seen in previous sessions, there were familiar themes. For this blogpost we’re going to pick up on four: the importance of equality and diversity as a category; the importance of data and monitoring; the need for cultural change, both within organisations and across the sector; and the problem of definitions and boundaries.

We often assume equality and diversity are uncontested categories. One of the most interesting themes from the session was the importance of who is included and who is excluded under the category of diversity. For some marginalised groups, diversity can reduce the specific experiences that exclude them from success in creative industries. Examples include experiences of racism for Black artists or of physical and digital spaces constructed to stop disabled people’s participation. At the same time, the broad category of diversity has the potential to support an intersectional approach to highlighting how class, race, gender, disability, and other characteristics intersect. As a result, support programmes can be tailored to individual needs.

Tailoring programmes is only possible with good quality and clear information. Several participants stressed that monitoring and data collection was essential to supporting equality and diversity. Without the data it is impossible to see any evidence of success. Moreover, the systemic nature of many of the barriers to greater diversity means that even projects, programmes, and policy that are felt to be working well might not have the desired impact on changing the overall organisation or sector. Indeed, for some participants data collection needed to be directly connected to sanctions - the sticks to the carrot of the business case for diversity.

Data collection and monitoring can be difficult for smaller organisations. One thing that is more straightforward, which will have a major impact, is cultural change. There was consensus on the need to embed diversity as an ethos within organisations. As we’d heard in previous sessions, just looking at a single scheme, an individual hire, or a specific commission, will not change the sector, nor will it transform an organisation. Equality and diversity must be embedded within all elements of organisational activity, not given to a department or an individual. In particular, this cultural change is likely to see a shift away from the sole focus on entry level positions or early career interventions, to look more at midcareer, middle management, and leadership roles.

Finally, the session heard discussion about the problem of definitions and drawing boundaries in the arts. For some this was part of what was off-putting for people with talent that didn’t fit the formal categories of artforms that are usually recognised and supported by institutions and organisations. It also means the range of jobs on offer in the arts wasn’t clear to people - particularly those who aren’t already well connected. The government’s Creative Careers programme is designed to address part of this problem, but the discussions were clear that changing what ‘counts’ as art and culture was part of the broader change to embed equality and diversity in the sector, so everyone, irrespective of their artform or their demographic, would be represented and have the change to succeed.

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For more information about the APPG for Creative Diversity, please contact Alex Pleasants (co-secretariat) on diversityappg@gmail.com.

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