By Tony Panayiotou, Director of Diversity Arts, Council England
The Creative Case for Diversity in the Arts
Diversity and arts have always existed. Adornment of the human body, of our environment, of nature and of things metaphysical has existed since the beginnings of humanity. The need to express visually, in word, dance and movement is a human need and fulfils a fundamental drive.
If it really is the case that everyone has a cultural entitlement and an inalienable right to participate and create in the arts, and whether they choose to exercise that right as either creators or consumers (or not at all) leads inevitably to a simple supposition, that art is for everyone. Could it be that art then is an a priori human right crucial to our existence, even survival?
In this publication, Third Text, Arts Council England and our contributors set out to examine and analyse a number of key issues relating to diversity, equality and the arts. This is important and timely for a number of reasons, one of the most important being the development of the Arts Council’s ten year vision for the arts Achieving Great Art for Everyone. There has been extensive public consultation on this and we have looked closely at what the public have said. Responses on matters of diversity and equality have provided a welcome endorsement of the work we have done so far. However, this publication aims to go further than just accepting that diversity and equality are good for the arts. There is a need for a fuller and deeper articulation than a simple, rather righteous statement gives.
Arts Council England approached Third Text in 2009 with an offer of a partnership to work together to take the debate about diversity and the arts to a new and different level. Third Text is a unique organisation, not without its criticism of the Arts Council, or indeed of its diversity interventions. It has, however, many years of high level advocacy for the arts and for championing a reinterpretation of the arts and its written history.
Third Text has argued with passion and conviction that the Western analytical paradigm of the arts is distorted in its history and imposing in its values and aesthetics. This has led to the neglect of crucial Modernist work produced by black and minority ethnic artists in Britain during the first decades of the postwar era. Here, in Third Text’s view, was a genuinely ‘culturally diverse’ model of art, and it remains largely ignored. In this negligent collective failure by the arts establishment firstly to recognise and value the diversity of cultural influences on British art, and secondly by erecting artificial barriers (social and economic as well as cultural/artistic) to keep this work at the periphery has hurt all art and all those who enjoy the arts, for as George Bernard Shaw put it (in his preface to Androcles and the Lion): "We are members one of another; so that you cannot injure or help your neighbour without injuring or helping yourself."
Inversely, anything that opens up, democratises and addresses the historical influences and cultures within our art is going to be of benefit to all the arts community, the wider public and to the creative process.
That the Arts Council has a leadership role in such a movement is beyond debate. Amongst other things, Arts Council England has legal public duties under equalities legislation. Over recent years the key influences for our work on diversity and equality have been driven by a number of ‘cases’: the legal case (meeting public duties), the moral case (it is the right thing to do) the ethical case (it is the fair thing to do) and the business case (good for the box office). This publication does not criticise these approaches but there is a clearer, simpler and more potent position to articulate for greater diversity and equality in the arts – they are crucial to the arts by sustaining, refreshing, replenishing and releasing the true potential of England’s artistic talent regardless of people’s background. The benefits to the arts and cultural industries of unlocking this creativity, eradicating exclusion and having an arts sector which is truly welcoming and focussed on people is potentially magnificent.
This publication has been produced to provoke and stimulate a wider debate within the arts community and beyond and to provide a platform that invites women, disabled people, the LGBT community – in fact everyone who cares about the future of the arts, whether as arts practitioners and professionals, funders and the public, to make their contribution. The Arts Council welcomes your views. As an organisation we will be looking to build on this initial phase of the Creative Case to make good and informed decisions in all aspects of our policy-making and practices. We hope too that organisations and artists that we fund engage with this work, organise workshops and discussion groups and help to create a lively and modern debate long overdue and much needed if the arts are not going to retreat into empty traditions, safety and further elitism.