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Sarah Holmes – “It’s just how it is”

(First published by the Creative Case for Diversity June ’13)

There it is. In a single phrase Sarah Holmes has articulated the ultimate state of equality: A barrier-less utopia where each individual has the access, opportunity and freedom to create and express themselves beyond the fixed walls of the tick box.

This easiness is a running thread in Holmes’s video, which celebrates the union between a visionary Artistic Director and the pioneering Graeae Theatre Company; a union which paved the way for the next logical step: the appointment of an ‘agent for change’.

The award winning musical “Reasons to be Cheerful” was born out of an alliance between New Wolsey Theatre, Theatre Royal Stratford East and Graeae.  It’s proof that collaboration, involving a diversity of experience and interest, which has accessibility at its core, provides the fertile ground on which organisations can change, grow and stimulate creativity. The next natural step for The New Wolsey Theatre was to employ an agent for change to assist them as they “reach out to people out there with a disability who’ve thought ‘I could never work in a theatre’.”

Clearly, the most striking element of the video is the simplicity with which Holmes’s inspirational vision to build a community theatre “with and for the people” marries now so organically with Ali Briggs’s posting and ability to support them through the process, transforming that vision and example of best practice into a realised and lasting entity.

Another, earlier example of how a partnership between an outward looking director with an agent for change can positively impact on an organisation came via the appointment of Caroline Bowditch, Dance Agent for Change, at the Scottish Dance Theatre. It was the first posting of its kind; made significant by the fact that one person was working equitably with the organisation to influence change, rather than holding sole responsibility for access, inclusion and engagement.

Under Bowditch’s creative gaze and experience, the theatre was able to extend “borders in the dance world”. Bowditch worked with 25,000 people in workshops within the UK and beyond, set up inclusive dance classes and co-directed and performed in two productions. During her tenure, her remit was to “embed at every level of the organisation, inclusivity”. It was an experience she describes as “joyous”.

Both case studies have at the helm, directors with the vision and desire to embrace diversity; to open doors, literally and creatively. But what about the institutions where change takes on a less organic, natural path?  Where change is not sought out, but has to be negotiated?

In such an environment, the role of an agent for change will inevitably be more challenging – to question the status quo and push for a new way of thinking or a broader outlook. Therein lies a greater challenge.

One hopes it’s a challenge that can be allayed by the New Wolsey Theatre’s real example. It’s testament to how an innate, relaxed approach to change can make working in the creative industry, in the words of Sarah Holmes, “a hell of a lot more exciting.”

Amardeep Sohi