Strategies & Solutions

This series of three reflections will share just some my learnings following a research project exploring and gaining an insight, and an understanding, into the UK’s Arts and Cultural industries as well as how diverse art forms and communities are represented and understood, with a focus on the South Asian community, funded by Arts Council England.

A final blog, for this series, highlighting the main thoughts from the key UK’s Arts and Cultural leaders behind creating diversity initiatives for the future, which are inclusive, in order to showcase cultural diversity in the arts.

Following on from Black Lives Matter, (BLM), in the summer of 2020, it seems from the interviews conducted within this project that this historical movement has further encouraged, and, in some instances, has very much been a catalyst, for Arts & Cultural organisations, around the United Kingdom, to revisit and restructure the diversity which is currently being represented within their organisation: whether that be on stage, behind the scenes or at a senior level. Many cultural initiatives and opportunities have already been in place for South Asian management representation, in the creative fields, but Black Lives Matter has initiated this thinking further, creating deeper conversations and questions around the notion of representation; what representation itself means and how to make more inclusive steps for the company, with some organisations developing fresh structures as a direct result of this, with thoughts of future at the heart of all. But, the question remains: will these structures create longevity, or will this be short-lived?

When discussing newly appointed Principal of The Royal Central School of Speech and Drama, Josette Bushell-Mingo OBE, who is the first person of African descent to be appointed as Principal at Central, as well as the first woman to be appointed to the role since 1942, with Zoe Pickering, Head of Programming & Big Imaginations Manager of Z-Arts, Zoe was asked in this written interview on her thoughts as to when it will be “normalized” for more South Asians and “people of colour” to have senior roles in the future, especially women. Zoe said: “I think the sector still has a way to go and I hope to see strong representation continuing to improve. I am seeing a shift in recruitment but in order to see more senior leadership roles we also have to see more middle management representation so there are pathways and professional development opportunities.”

Towards the end of this project, I had the absolutely joy of speaking with Artistic Director and Chief Executive of Manchester International Festival, (MIF), John McGrath. When discussing the topic of diversity schemes, John made an extremely valid point stemmed around diversity initiatives being created from the communities themselves. In John’s own words diversity initiatives “need to be developed in consultation with the communities that they are for. So, it can’t be a bunch of people from outside of the community deciding what the initiative should look like and then wondering why it didn’t work. They need to be developed with representatives from the communities that they target.”

In order for representation, in all its forms, to be successfully fulfilled, it is vital for this representation to already be highly visible and not an invisible, or next to invisible, concept, particularly when it comes to female South Asian Arts & Cultural leaders. As the well-known saying goes: “if you can see it you can be it”, and the under-representation of South Asian leaders in the

Arts & Cultural industry is slowly becoming a barrier within itself. We have to be hopeful that the diversity structures in place, and future schemes, will break this cycle in order for progression in the Arts to be achieved.

Thank you to Arts Council England for funding this Project. Thank you, also, to Zoe Pickering, Head of Programming & Big Imaginations Manager of Z-Arts, John McGrath, Artistic Director and Chief Executive of Manchester International Festival (MIF), as well as the many other fabulous interviewees for sharing their insights and experiences, for this project.