A workforce that represents the changing face of Britain? We’re still playing catch up.
In our first blog of 2019, Eclipse Enabler Degna Stone argues there is no “one size fits all” solution to under-representation of black people in the cultural sector.
Access, money, governance, workforce development, all need urgent attention from the leaders of our creative institutions.
I’m an Enabler. An odd title but one that perfectly sums up what my job entails. Enabling artists to build relationships that will help them to create sustainable careers in the arts. I do this throughSlate: Black · Arts · World, an ambitious cross-artform development programme run by Eclipseto support Black* artists across the north of England by increasing access to local, national and international networks.
Although Slate works with artists from across the cultural spectrum, my experience is in theatre. I love the way theatre can give you a cracking night of entertainment and change your world view at the same time. I love the way it can transform the lives of people who don’t always have a voice. I love the way it encourages people, especially young people, to demand to be heard.
One thing I don’t love, is the fact that theatre, and the wider cultural sector, still needs to play catch up before its workforce truly represents the changing face of Britain. Slate’s focus is on people from Black, Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds but within this broad and varied group of people there are also disabled people, LGBTQ+ people, working class people, young people. Handy (and infuriating) umbrella terms like ‘BAME’ only give part of the picture. We are not one homogenous mass, we have different cultural backgrounds, different lived experiences and trying to apply a one size fits all solution to the lack of representation is just not going to work.
It’s about access.
If entry points are barred, or worse, invisible to people who are underrepresented how are they supposed to get in? It’s not just about whose stories we see and hear on stage, we need to see our society reflected amongst those who make the decisions too. The people running our cultural organisations, the people who decide what we get to see, the people who distribute the resources.
And talking of resources, one of the biggest barriers to access for young people is money. Too often, young people are expected to work for a pittance (being paid but not nearly enough for the hours they put in) or nothing at all. Funding themselves by working extra jobs or relying on support from parents, which isn’t always an option.
Arts Council England (ACE) are addressing the lack of diversity and Eclipse is leading change through the Slate movement. We’re changing the conversation by asking the people who lead and govern organisations to take look around them and see who is missing.
And once they’ve done that, to do something about it.
The only way to get true representation is to make sure that we make space for people from a diverse range of backgrounds at every level of our organisations. From the ushers to the CEOs, from the communications departments to the production teams. But more important are the conversations we have with Black artists.
Artists are at the heart of the Slate movement. Whether it’s through our commissions, our writers’ group, our specialist workshops, our bursaries or our Slate Socials, we respond to the needs of artists, empowering them to expect more and demand more
*To Eclipse, Black means anyone marginalised for their race or ethnicity.