It's been Decibel week in Manchester this week, Arts Council England's performing arts showcase for diverse work. At a symposium on the Creative Case, ACE's new approach to diversity and the arts, I presented with Tony Nwachukwu to introduce a paper called the Role of Diversity in Building Adaptive Resilience, which is now available on the ACE website. (You can see Tony using his years of experience as a bass player to not pull faces whilst I talk on the Creative Case site here.)
The symposium was a really interesting day, with a lot of enthusiasm and a sensible amount of skepticism about ACE's new agenda for diversity - summed up best as 'let's talk about art and diversity within it, not labels first and arts second'. That this is not so simple was apparent from some of the debates though, such as the tension apparent between proper acknowledgement of identity (or multiple identities) and desire to have your art considered simply as art and differences of opinions as to whether margins/mainstream are useful terms. (Margins no, mainstream probably.)
I welcome the Creative Case, and feel the biggest challenge remains not the consideration of artists from particular backgrounds but the introduction of far greater degrees of diversity and difference to what we currently call mainstream organisations and their staff and programmes. We need the kind of emphasis on diversifying the workforce and in particular the leadership that can be found in some other sectors - one of the case studies describes how this is happening in a major law firm. This is particular responsibility for board members when recruiting. Despite our sector's rhetoric about risk, many currently look for someone like the last person, with a safe set of skills.
As someone pointed out, class and education are arguably at the root of this. Do you really have to be a graduate to work in the arts, for instance? You'd think so, looking at job descriptions. In fact, you might suspect you need an MA these days. As someone said on Twitter, if we're worried about tuition fees making the arts a middle class ghetto, we could always change our recruitment patterns and stop making a degree obligatory. What are the benefits of diversifying and multiplying the perspectives we bring to our work - that is at the root of our paper, and for me the heart of the creative case.