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(Originally published Sept ’11 on http://disabilityarts.creativecase.org.uk)

Five hundred people from various arts organisations gathered in Manchester for the Creative Case Symposium yesterday. With them travelled the natural energy that comes from knowing you’ll meet other professionals to discuss creativity and the arts. The focus for the symposium was the much used term ‘diversity’ and the Arts Council’s new approach to it: The Creative Case for Diversity.

Director of Diversity at the Arts Council, Tony Panayiotou, speaking at the Creative Case symposium

The Arts Council have set out their goals and vision for the next 10 years in their new strategic framework entitled Great Art For Everyone. It sounds ambitious and somewhat idealistic, particularly when dealing with a sector where there are known social and economic obstacles. But progress of any kind begins with an ideal and there is a need to increase diversity within the arts.

According to Director of Diversity at the Art’s Council, Tony Panayiotou, the Creative Case is ‘an approach’ towards achieving this. It sets out the need to move the issue of diversity from the periphery into the very core of the arts sector. It was born out of the fact that inequality continues to exist and many artists and organisations from BME and disability-led communities are frustrated by the fact that they remain on the margins.

Diversity within the arts is a complex and layered area to navigate. It spans across artists, audiences, decision makers and the work itself. But recognising the need to redefine and rehouse the term ‘diversity’ is a good starting point. For too long it has been synonymous with box ticking and a discussion which sits on the sidelines, which can be frustrating to witness. Senior Strategy Officer Hassan Mahamdallie summed it up perfectly when he said, ‘Let’s stop having a debate on diversity on one side and a debate about art on the other side of the room. Let’s just have a conversation on art and have the true value of diversity at the heart of it.’

But it’s important to remember that this approach is not a new concept. There are organisations and practitioners in the industry who already embody the Creative Case in their practice. Contact Theatre in Manchester and Freedom Studios in Bradford are but two examples of organisations who have placed diversity at their very core. Diversity is used to inspire and create, as it should. There were probably numerous more organisations in the auditorium who also achieve this.

What the Arts Council is doing is highlighting the need to bring this approach into the mainstream. As the body that awards funds to organisations, they’re in the ideal position to do this.

The Creative Case has succeeded in recognising the need for change. It provokes all arts professionals to rethink the role diversity plays within the arts sector, so this is the moment for change. The ultimate success of the Creative Case however lies in the mainstream’s ability to grasp and engage with this new dialogue. The concept of diversity needs to move away from box-ticking exercises and become integral to inspiring the creativity the industry relies on.

It’s time for larger, more established organisations to not just welcome the Creative Case but to embrace it, sincerely.