The Creative Case for Diversity

With fellow members of the South East Museum Development Team, I spend a most rewarding day in the inspiring setting of the Brighton Museum working with Arts Council England’s Ashai Nicholas on the Creative Case for Diversity. It was gorgeous weather out there but the quality of discussion meant we didn’t mind being indoors. And we had a great view of the museum’s gardens through the window.

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You’ve probably heard about Arts Council England’s work on the Creative Case – a re-imagining of the Arts Council’s approach to diversity and equality, setting out how these areas can and should enrich the arts for artists, audiences and our wider society. If not, these Heads Up short film portraits give you the flavour as a group of arts leaders discuss their individual interpretation of the Creative Case for Diversity.

The point of the Creative Case is that diversity shouldn’t be an add-on or box ticking exercise that museums and other arts organisations embrace from a moral duty or to access funding. Being truly inclusive brings intrinsic benefits to the arts and culture – the creation of better work that benefits and inspires more people.

In 2014, Arts Council Arts Council England’s Chair Sir Peter Bazalgette set out a new approach to this agenda:

“Diversity needs to go mainstream…. While we focus on increasing opportunities for people from protected characteristic groups, we are also challenging the barriers to participation and engagement across socioeconomic barriers and across geography. Public funding of arts and culture should be invested for the benefit of everyone. It should offer opportunity and draw on all talents.”

During our stimulating workshop with Ashai we worked to explore ways that more museums can benefit from embracing diversity. We discussed some of the great work that is already happening in the sector. Then we discussed what diversity is and what it isn’t. We agreed that it is about being open, reflecting our community in all its richness and letting external voices influence and change what we do. We agreed that it isn’t about measurement, tokenism or just about race which many discussions of diversity seem to focus on.

We explored some useful frameworks for thinking about diversity. For example, the Equality Act 2010 which legally protects people from discrimination in the workplace and in wider society provides a useful legal reference point and museums must ensure that they meet its standards. But to get the full benefit in terms of creativity, leadership and community support, organisations need to go further.

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For example, making ‘reasonable adjustments’ such as information about the museum’s services available in large print and audio guide for people with visual impairment is a start. Some people with visual impairment who come to the museum will be better able to access its offer. Involving people with visual impairment in decision making about the museum’s programming takes the relationship further: for example linking with a local support group of people with visual impairment to explore their suggestions about what would make the museum better for them. This approach moves the conversation from a transaction to a relationship, opening the door to further conversations and visits.

Two, interconnected fundamentals are key in this approach: Partnerships and leadership.

Partnerships expand a museums ability to refresh its relationships, audiences and talent pool. A museum that is well linked to other organisations in its community is likely to have a ready source of ideas, visitors and collaborators.

Leadership sets both the direction and the culture of a museum. If diversity is not embraced from the top, it is less likely to flourish in other parts of the organisation.

Having a diverse range of trustees helps to ensure that the museum reflects the diversity of the community it serves, increase public confidence and accountability. It helps to ensure that the Board has the full range of skills it needs and to ensure that fresh ideas are generated. Many museums lack sufficient Trustees to ensure the sustainability of their organisations. They find it difficult to recruit new Board members when someone retires from the Board. Many also lack diversity in their Trustee populations. The two issues are closely linked. When museums look for new Trustees from within their existing networks of contacts, both the number and range of potential Trustees are limited. Partnerships are a great way to expand networks and many great Trustees sit on the Boards of more than one organisation.

At the South East Museum Development Programme we’ve been developing support opportunities to help museums to embrace diversity at the top and through the whole organisation and the expand partnerships.

The Mainstream Diversity project  will provide focused support for Boards to recruit, fill skills gaps and become more reflective of their communities. You can find out more about the customised support for available to your museum via our website and then talk to your MDO about how this important project can best help you.

The Arts Business Models project gives museums the opportunity to learn from some amazing arts organisations that have diversity at the core of their success. For example Graeae Theatre Company whose mission is Graeae is to be a force for change in world-class theatre, breaking down barriers, challenging preconceptions and boldly placing disabled artists centre stage. In their case study for our programme, Graeae have shared how their assumptions about working with non-arts partners have been challenged, and they have found the relationships rewarding and flexible enough to allow them to remain true to their vision. If you’d like to be partnered with Graeae or one of the other exceptional case study arts organisations, you still have time to apply.

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