The arts sector needs to ask itself difficult questions about representation of black voices, Getintothis’ Laura Brown reflects.
I had another piece written for this monthly column.
It was about protecting theatres and our public spaces. But this week has been hard.
Every sector has to reflect on its work, its role, its complicity, its action, its amplification.
As buildings light up in purple to show support for George Floyd, as social media accounts fill with black squares, hashtags and solidarity, we need to ask, are we as an arts sector doing enough?
Are we promoting black voices and artists?
Do BAME arts professionals get in enough of your meeting rooms, your Zoom chats, your curatorial conversations?
Liverpool has long promoted itself as being inclusive, and Liverpool is fairly inclusive.
There are some places that are worse, some far better.
White nationalists might struggle to get out of Lime Street, but not providing a safe place for racists to promote their bile is a pretty low bar.
If you’re a black curator in Liverpool do you feel you’ve got the same opportunity as a white one? If you’re Arab, Chinese, do you?
If you’re a black promoter, producer, songwriter, lead singer, do you feel you’re heard?
If you’re white and reading this, message someone who might be able to offer insight and ask them, don’t assume you know.
And if they don’t want to answer you, don’t be surprised. You have far more power than they have in this situation.
Back in February, Arts Council England said organisations could lose their funding if they failed to meet diversity targets.
Just 16% of England’s working-age population are from black and other minority ethnic backgrounds.
In national portfolio organisations – that’s galleries, theatres, orchestras, dance companies and museums receiving regular funding from Arts Council England – the figure is just 11%.
Change has been too slow.
Experience shapes everything we produce as creatives.
When you work in something as personal as art, music or performance of course the work ends up coming from what you know.
Many festivals in Liverpool do well because much of their work is focused on voices outside of the mainstream, Africa Oyé, Writing on the Wall (how good was that programme, by the way?) Homotopia, Brazilica, Liverpool Arab Arts Festival, Milapfest. BAME, LGBTQ, people from places that don’t often come into the spotlight.
There are often months, weeks, weekends where you see true diversity in Liverpool.
But just because it’s January doesn’t make you any less black. March doesn’t make you any less of a lesbian. August doesn’t make you any less Arab.
I am insanely proud of my Arab heritage. It becomes more and more part of me the older I get.
And I know how lucky I am to work with Arab artists for a huge chunk of my year. I think I’m a rarity, and that breaks my heart a little.
Because, really, it’s gatekeeping.
If we’re judging our diversity on who walks through our spaces, who we hire our spaces to, but now who we commission and not who we hire, what are we doing? What are we saying?
There’s a furious frustration, I’ve heard it very loud across WhatsApp groups and social media channels in Liverpool the past few days, that the arts uses people of colour, people from minority ethnic backgrounds when they need them.
It looks good on an application, on a grant. Does it?
Do you use BAME artists to fulfil a purpose, to illustrate how diverse you are? Do you sit in a white room deciding you need to find a black artist because it’s Black History Month?
Liverpool used to use the tagline ‘The World in One City’ and you see solidarity, you see black squares on social media everywhere. And yet, and yet, and yet.
Equity of opportunity, equity of voice, equity of platform, equity of work, equity of prestige, equity of acclaim, equity of critical attention, equity of visibility.