Since my last blog we have had welcome news from Arts Council England that our Creative Diversity programme has been rated STRONG with helpful suggestions about how we could move to OUTSTANDING by strengthening the evidence of the clear impact of our work on emerging artists and disabled young people. The team are now gathering powerful stories from those we have worked with which I will share with you in the future.
Normally I would have been up in Edinburgh in August discovering the latest talent and trends in contemporary theatre and dance, which always invigorates my own creativity. Sadly this year due to the pandemic, I have instead been participating in some interesting webinars to get my fix.
One of the most fascinating was a discussion about Programming with Diversity in Mind organised by the Edinburgh Fringe. This was in important and timely intervention in the debates around Black Lives Matter as venues up and down the country challenge themselves to recognise that change is long overdue and I thought it would make an interesting topic for my blog this month, particularly as we move into Black History month.
The webinar was expertly chaired by Leicester based Pawlet Brookes, who runs the Lets Dance Festival and Black History season, with other speakers included Skinder Hundal from New Arts Exchange, Sharon Watson from Northern School of Contemporary Dance and Stella Kanu from the International Lift Festival held in London.
It was inspirational to hear from Stella Kanu about how she is breaking down barriers of what she called “containment” – taking black work out to non-black spaces, using local expertise to inform and create work with community curators and stop thinking of Black work as “risky” in terms of commerciality. If we programme stories that relate and themes that bring about change we will attract audiences.
The following words really resonated with me and how Attenborough Arts Centre could support change
“Diversity is less about the gaze of white audiences and programmers – and as venues we need to create space and time, where people of colour can have their own conversations with others with similar experiences such as Windrush, hostile living conditions, everyday racism and then perhaps share with white audiences enabling them to understand more about the barriers and challenges. “ Stella asked for more time “for us” to understand ourselves, celebrate and understand our own hidden and common experiences and move away from the focus on trauma.
An important topic that is reflected in wider conversations across Universities such as our own at the University of Leicester is the need to de-colonise our programme, being aware of language, challenging accepted historic perspectives and looking for new voice, perspectives and source material. If we shift language we also shift power by recognising “people of colour are not minorities but the global majority”.
With most arts organisations still failing to adequately reflect their local communities in the ethnic makeup of their staff, there was a strong recommendation to diversify teams to benefit from the richness of different cultural backgrounds and experiences working together. Our traineeship programme aims to contribute to this diversification but we know we still have a long way to go.
The webinar ended with some practical suggestions that we will certainly be taking on board as we begin to plan for the coming year, which we will be using to shape our programming going forward.
We live in a disposable world – and we need to enable audiences to make their own choices not tell them what they are going to like. Audiences are communities that create culture and we need to understand the psychology at play – pick and choose options are still valid and the shift to Digital consumption increases our chances for audience engagement as they can now pick the time to watch something in the comfort of their own homes. We now have a great opportunity to build on new COVID audiences for cultural content
COVID has allowed for some important learning – importance demonstrated by audience demand for local cultural activity that could be shared such as people singing from balconies and dancing in the street. People now understand different forms culture takes and may be more prepared to take risks. We can and should build on the thirst to be together again in social space but theatres need to shift to meet this more informal demand. We need to invest in artists to increase their skills and knowledge about working in new ways that not only are socially engaged but socially distanced – also to build on evidence that collaborations can be developed quickly using new technology in ways not previously imagined.
The webinar ended with the following simple but dynamic recommendations which I loved. We need to be brave, take risks, and innovate. But above all, the Attenborough arts centre, along with the arts as whole, needs to have a clear future vision of change.