Arts organisations in ELL boroughs receiving Arts Council funding opt into new plans to champion diversity

Kazzum's performance of Waiting Game. Pic: Ben Grubb

Kazzum’s performance of Waiting Game. Pic: Ben Grubb

Beneficiaries of Arts Council funding in Eastlondonlines boroughs and beyond have made commitments to appeal to wide-ranging communities by opting into the council’s new plans to champion diversity.

Arts organisations in Eastlondonlines boroughs and elsewhere in the UK have pledged their support for diversity within the industry by signing up to the Creative Case for Diversity, a mission dedicated to “releas[ing] the true potential of England’s artistic talent, regardless of people’s background.”

Sir Peter Bazalgette, chair of Arts Council England gave “the most important speech of [his] life” last Monday, in which he outlined plans to publish data from 2015 onwards that will show how diverse the workforces of its National Portfolio Organisations are.

New “strategic funding programmes” mean that money organisations receive, as members of the next national portfolio after 2018, will depend on their progress with diversity.

The Creative Case also involves “holding funded organisations to account” and redefining what it means to be “diverse-led”.

Yet despite the “fundamental shift in approach” deemed essential by Arts Council England, diversity has long been the ethos of local arts organisations.

Kazzum Arts Projects in Tower Hamlets turned 25 years old in November and from its initial launch it has placed diversity at its core.

Daryl Beeton, artistic director of Kazzum told ELL: “Initially…[work with diversity] was mainly around ethnicity and that framework for diversity, but over the last 10 years we have been champions in widening the definition of diversity to include disability, accessibility and other social barriers like finance.”

According to Beeton, who has worked for other arts organisations prior to his 10 years at Kazzum, Arts Council England had been pushing the diversity agenda from behind the scenes. He said: “The smaller companies who are working on very little money are embracing it. The problem is that the larger organisations still see it as a ticking box exercise.”

Making diversity information public is supported by smaller arts organisations such as Kazzum, who have been championing transparency. Beeton looks forward to the accountability that has to be held as soon as data is made public in 2015, but he remains unsure as to why it took so long to make these changes.

He stated: “I do think that the Paralympics had a big impact on [reaching this point of reform], especially from a disability point of view. There were a lot of really high quality disability arts out there. Disability crosses gender, race and sexuality. So if you start to look at the work of disabled people you then start to see a more diverse section of performers. 2012 was a big time to celebrate that, especially in east London which is very diverse in itself.”

In his speech, Bazalgette voiced his concern that black and Asian recruits are too often pushed towards performing rather than towards leadership progression.

Hackney’s Arcola Theatre however, is one of the only theatres in London that is led by a Black and Minority Ethnic Director.

The theatre runs a programme called Arcola Lab which provides opportunities for BME artists in London and beyond to develop their work in theatre.

Jack Gamble, marketing and communications manager for Arcola Theatre, said: “We are a member of the UK’s sustained theatre network and have provided opportunities through our creative engagement to lots of different sections of our community.  We are proud of and believe in providing opportunities for people in creative engagement, and to provide opportunities for their own original work.”

Arcola also provides programming prospects for work within different sections of the community. Gamble said: “We very much support the message and reflect that in the work we do.”

Smaller companies in east London in particular, have long been paving the way for diversity in the arts with limited funding. However, Arts Council England now expects bigger organisations to play a leading role in changing approaches to diversity.

Six million pounds has been committed for “additional support”. A dedicated Creative Case commissioning fund will be made to finance more work in support of diversity.

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