Cultural production, whether in live arts such as theatre or dance, visual arts or broadcast media, plays a central role in shaping everyday society. In a politically turbulent moment, where the mainstream political agenda is increasingly polarised and racialised, minority voices are ever more marginalised. How different communities are represented and are able to represent themselves through the arts and media is therefore of deep significance.
The civic value of arts for wider democratic projects, is underpinned by the ideas of connection and collaboration between different people and communities. This suggests an openness towards cultural difference that the Creative Interruptions project is exploring.
As a report published by the Department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) in 2017 indicated, there is strong economic growth in the cultural sector, smashing through the £100 billion mark. The value of the creative industries to the UK is was up from £94.8 billion in 2016 to £101.5 billion in 2017, and has grown at nearly twice the rate of the economy since 2010.
Yet a lack of racial, class, and gender diversity within these industries remains. In Arts Council England’s (ACE) most recent diversity report, Equality, Diversity and the Creative Case, there is reference to the sector ‘treading water,’ with ‘little discernible change’ in some areas. This calls into question the efficacy of past and current approaches to increasing diversity in the creative industries.
Only 10.9% of creative jobs are filled by black and minority ethnic (BME) people, according to the Creative Industries Federation 2015 survey. In stark contrast, BME people make up 40% of the population of London - a major creative hub.
Societal problems of exclusion and discrimination are reflected in how the creative industry works. Some institutions and organisations recognise these systemic inequalities, and implement policies and programmes to address them, however, they are often designed as stand-alone initiatives, with a ‘one size fits all’ approach.
Indeed, ’diversity’ has become an empty concept in policy-making, used to apply universally to different sets of people with different kinds of needs, desires and skills. As I argued in a paper published in 2013, the ‘turn away from questions of representation and identity politics is the critical dimension’ that has given rise to a vacuous notion of ‘creative diversity.
It has become a catch-all term, with an overemphasis on training and development, rather than on radically rethinking what it would mean to dismantle the rigidly unequal structures of power, beyond tokenistic gestures.
Instead, we should be building credible, radical solutions that really will make a difference. This could mean calling out forms of exclusion, such as racially discriminatory practices, and foregrounding the social value of tackling racial inequality.
What does ‘diversity’ mean?
Diversity is not simply about having more ‘diverse’ people in an institution, or about a ‘special’ season programmed intermittently amidst the ‘mainstream’ programme. Instead, we need to urgently rethink how our nation and national story is presented to others and to ourselves.
An alternative approach might involve including those who are routinely sidelined in conceiving of a solution to their lack of representation. This involves thinking deeply about diversity in a more ‘bottom-up’, rather than ‘top-down’, institutionalised, boardroom way.
Another idea would be to think about the diversity that already exists in marginalised forms of cultural work outside the formal, mainstream cultural sector, the kind of creative production that stems from lived experiences and may not always be easily ‘translatable’ . In the UK, we saw examples of this in the Black Arts Movement of the 1980s through radical forms of independent film collectives as well as writing, poetry, literature, visual arts and music. While this cultural movement largely went unsupported by the mainstream, it created new cultural formations, new ideas of what it meant to be an ‘ethnic minority’ and new forms of creative expression.
Whichever way it is done, inclusion, equality, and diversity matter, and we need to keep talking about the best way to achieve them, especially now. As we said in our very first blog post on Race Matters: “Real people are being caught up in hostile policies and environments and this is impacting on their everyday lives”.
Creative Interruptions is concerned with how these shifting contexts are shaping people’s ideas of themselves and others. We analyse the role of creativity as a form of expression. We are exploring what those forms of creativity reveal and how they help to reframe dominant narratives. How are artists’ documenting forms of inequality, for example, and what impact might their work have in shaping political and economic debates in these areas?
Put simply, how can the arts challenge inequalities, and what lessons do the ‘mainstream’ need to learn about this in order to improve their practices?
Runnymede and Creative Interruptions collaborated on a roundtable discussion on these and other issues as part of the Creative Interruptions Festival in June 2018 at the BFI Southbank. To watch some of the inspiring contributions and key note addresses from the two-day event follow this link: Creative Interruptions: A Festival of Arts and Activism