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Director’s Blog

Director’s Blog

It is with despondency that I see there are yet more cuts enforced on the arts industry. This time at the hands of Arts Council Northern Ireland. I started my career in Belfast, running a theatre company with a group of friends, and have a love for the place and its people. It is a beautiful, inspiring, hugely entertaining and provocative place to work and visit, and it is such a shame that colleagues there are facing such a savage funding environment. This comes only months after the cuts imposed by Creative Scotland, and brings into focus the necessity for organisations and employees in the arts to be resilient, both financially and emotionally.

I feel very lucky, then, to be part of Boosting Resilience, one of four Arts Council England funded initiatives, encouraging and upskilling organisations to be more resilient through income diversification, entrepreneurialism and resilient leadership.

This initiative is led by The School for Social Entrepreneurs, and on our most recent residency, one topic, that is again in the headlines today, was at the forefront of our conversation. Less than a fifth of employees working in music, performing and visual arts are from a working-class background, a new report claims. The study reveals a “significant and longstanding lack of social mobility” in the creative industries. At Creativity Works, we put the Creative Case for Diversity at the heart of our work, and much of our delivery is focused on those with mental health issues, and those from a low socio-economic background.  Although ‘socio-economic background’ is not a protected characteristic, it is a matter that is included in ACE’s work on equality and diversity. Whilst, however, there now seems to be endless tick-box options for what race you are, and an increase, quite rightly, in the reporting factors for gender and sexuality, there are no questions on their monitoring forms for socio-economic background. Is it too difficult to think of questions? Are people afraid of offending participants and audiences by asking what their background is? We wondered whether asking about free-school meals, or where you were schooled could be relevant questions. But it didn’t seem these would give us satisfactory data. It is no longer adequate to gain such insight from postcodes, especially in areas such as London, or indeed Frome where I now live, where many traditionally poorer areas are now gentrified.
Interestingly, we work in partnership with the Adult Learning Service (one of the biggest providers of arts activity in the country) on a variety of projects, and they do ask questions concerning receipt of benefits and employment status.
I continued this same discussion at our recent co|Create steering group meeting, where the members of the group, all artists themselves, felt that direct questions were legitimate to ensure that we as a sector are indeed reaching those from a poorer socio-economic background. It has been very well articulated by a member of our Somer Valley Co-Producers group, working alongside The Naturals to deliver the arts development commission in The Somer Valley, that price is one of, if not the, biggest barrier to participation in the arts in that area.
I certainly don’t have the answers, however I do think that the debate around class, diversity and inclusion needs to be kept high on the agenda. Please do get in touch with me if you have an insight into this area of work, or know of relevant and progressive solutions to the problem of gathering data around people’s backgrounds to inform organisations’ reach. There may well be some fantastic work going on out there that I am totally unaware of. We at Creativity Works, will definitely keep striving to be as accessible and diverse in our approach as we possibly can be.
Olly
Director, Creativity Works

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