The thrust of this article is that future developments in the arts have to go beyond lip-service to vague commitments to diversity. That is especially important in an era where we face severe cuts to public spending. It would be a gross error for the arts to turn inwards, to ‘preserve’ the status quo. In fact, we would argue that now is the time to be bold, to acknowledge that those who we think of being at the margins are in fact, in many ways, the pioneers running in front of us – showing us a different, richer, more dynamic and relevant future for the arts and wider culture.
The Arts Council wants to gather together a consensus that agrees that the relationship between the arts and diversity and equality needs to find another, more fundamental axis to turn on. The Arts Council certainly does not have all the answers to the questions that a creative approach to diversity and equality throws up, but it does want to create the opportunities for people to ask profound questions, to debate them and provide convincing evidence for their assertions and viewpoints. We hope as a result that the arts community will come to regard diversity and equality as wholly integrated into its everyday thought and practice.
Ten years ago Rasheed Araeen put it to the Arts Council that the presence of artists of African and Asian origin in this country, and their historical achievements,
was a gift to this society’s struggle to come to terms with its postcolonial realities. It was a gift which was meant to enable this society to re-define itself and achieve a new identity… The gift it still there, waiting for this society to recognize and accept. (Rasheed Araeen, Art History As A Common Heritage, proposal submitted to the Arts Council on behalf of Black Umbrella; August 2000)
If we are wise enough to accept this gift, and all that goes with it, we have a chance to transform the relationship between diversity, equality, creativity and arts innovation, and by so doing set in motion far-reaching changes.