Arts Council England makes the Creative Case for Diversity

,  9 December 2014

It’s an odd thing how difficult a liberal-minded arts sector finds the issue of diversity. On the face of it it’s a straightforward issue of fairness and parity, so why do we keep going round in circles?

Arts Council England has issued its Creative Case for Diversity: a new approach to equality and diversity in the sector.

We need to do so much more to recruit from the widest possible pool of people.

This is an extremely positive move. But it is striking to note how many initiatives like this we've seen before. When I joined the Royal Opera House in 1983, one of my first tasks was to support an internal audit, required by the then Arts Council of England, to prove that four per cent of the company’s budget was being spent on spent on 'Black and Minority Ethnic' (the then-term) staff, artist and audiences. Not a difficult job, as it happens.

To be fair, the arts sector has made some progress – much more than in the commercial film and TV sectors. And not least, I’d say, because of Lottery funding. However, things seemed to have slipped again. 

The challenge of diversity in the arts

For the arts this is a three-part challenge. Unless all three parts are addressed, there’s little hope of change.

  1. There’s the ‘cultural’ bit: whose art are we funding and promoting? Whether it’s deaf arts, disability arts or Asian arts, there’s an inherent issue of respect and value there.
  2. There’s the ‘access’ aspect: is all the work we fund genuinely open to everyone?
  3. But also important is the ‘employment’ part. And that’s where Creative & Cultural Skills comes in.

​Recruiting diverse talent to the workforce

When you look at the labour market statistics and the skills issues arising from them, it’s clear that we need to do so much more to ensure we recruit from the widest possible pool of people.

We are a 60 per cent graduate sector, but all the jobs are not 'graduate' jobs.  

Then there's the culture of taking on unpaid interns which, inevitably, are those young people who can afford to work for no pay. This forces anyone else to move into other sectors.

When we advertise an apprenticeship, we attract a genuinely diverse range of candidates. 

On top of all of this, there’s only a minimal history of the arts working with Further Education and apprenticeships, which are particularly effective for technical and vocational job roles. We find that when we advertise an apprenticeship in the arts sector, we attract a genuinely diverse range of candidates.

Apprenticeships allow a new and diverse generation of young people to get their foot in the door. Many of these young people would ordinarily be screened out by HR departments, whose long lists flatter them with huge numbers of extraordinarily highly qualified people. 

Arts Council England rightly makes the Creative Case for Diversity. The next challenge is to make the change in all three areas: more diverse work and better access, but also a sector populated by artists, managers and staff who reflect the communities we serve.

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