(Published for The Creative Case for Diversity, May ’11)
In my previous post, I set out my thoughts on the role that NPOs and the Arts Council have in diversifying the arts industry. But how exactly can the NPOs incorporate the fundamental elements of the Creative Case and move diversity from the periphery to its rightful place – at the heart of their organisation?
The call for more diversity within the arts spans across content, audiences and staff at the organisation. Whilst there is no-one-size-fits-all approach for the NPOs, each of these areas needs a fresh approach. Tokenism and box ticking need to be replaced with creativity and flexibility, making diversity a fluid and evolving concept that permeates all aspects of an arts organisation.
Content is the fuel that sustains an organisation and the re-positioning of diversity requires organisations to produce work that is reflective of our ever changing society. When attempting to do so, it’s important to remember that minority groups are not homogenous; a plurality of voices exists within them. The ability to access these voices, without pigeon-holing them will determine the success of any strategy and allow the concept of diversity to move away from tokenism. At the same time, the talent which delivers this content should be formed from the broadest demographic. Artists from minority groups should not be confined to stereotypical roles. More leading, traditional roles need to be available to them to ensure artistic freedom and greater diversity across the sector.
Once content becomes truly diverse, it must ripple out to audiences. When considering audience development, organisations need to think more creatively about their press and marketing campaigns. The assumption that a particular production will attract a particular audience is short-sighted and inhibits progress. Inclusion should form the foundation of all campaigns and the long term goal should be to make the audiences as diverse as possible for a wide range of work. Organisations can do this by developing lasting relationships with press or media outlets associated with minority groups, and approaching them with offers, competitions and advertisements for a wider range of performances and exhibitions.
The success of any strategy will be determined by the diversity within an organisation. The presence of new and alternative perspectives from entry level to board level will have the greatest impact in increasing diversity across the various aspects of an arts organisation. Contact Theatre in Manchester (See ‘The role of diversity in building adaptive resilience’) is a prime example of how an open and inclusive environment has created an organisation which is diverse in both output and composition. Young adults are involved in business plans, programming, recruitment and form part of the board, resulting in an organisation that embodies diversity, successfully.
In order to attract these new perspectives, organisations need to tap into networks not traditionally associated with the arts sector. Forming relationships with social enterprises for example is one way to do this. Creating paid internship programmes is another. Providing interns with a wage will remove the barrier of privilege from any attempts to gain access and experience within the industry and broaden the demographic of those in positions of influence.
As the size and reach of the NPOs vary, they cannot all adopt the same strategy. They can however, adopt a similar mindset and that is to be actively open, flexible and creative in every aspect of their organisation. True diversity will only be achieved when it is reflected in content, audiences and the make-up of the organisation.