Ashley Smith-Hammond

Highlights from an event on the diversity of the sector and what we can do to serve a wider audience and build more representative pool of professionals.

Several weeks ago I co-hosted an event with Spektrix looking at access and participation. We wanted to talk through the findings from the Scottish Government’s cultural strategy consultation, which highlighted concerns around the diversity of the sector, in a supportive and solutions-focused environment with our peers who are working on this issue.

One of the things we have in common at Culture Republic and Spektrix is that, in working with people from around the country and across artforms, we can see how individual organisations are facing wider challenges. We wanted to use those connections to bring people together who could support and learn from each other.

sticky note reading 'don't forget the joy'We were joined by a passionate and experienced group from across different artforms who were working in Scotland’s marginalised communities. All had experience of making work in partnership with or reaching out to people who are often excluded from arts audiences. All were taking tangible steps to change their organisations’ ways of working, marketing and programming. In the first part of the day we invited the group to reflect on some of the challenges they had experienced in this work. In the second half we shared solutions that the group had either found individually or were cooked up on the spot by particularly inspired participants.

It was an enriching conversation because all of the participants showed the depth of experience they’d gained actually doing the work – not just talking about it. One early observation that’s stuck with me was a challenge to the jargon term ‘audience development’, which can be interpreted by those on the receiving end as though they’re the ones being developed. Seen from this perspective, the development is about making them better people. It’s unpleasantly paternalistic, and potential participants, understandably, want no part of it.

sticky note reading 'high level of thoughtfulness going into marketing, collateral targeted at diversifying (no patronising)' The afternoon was full of insight like this and part of what we promised was to bring what was learned from the day out to a wider group. So to that end, we’ve planned a small series of blogs to bring out the key themes that the participants looked at. These will be cross published on both Culture Republic’s and Spektrix’s websites over the coming weeks.

diversity and equality

As I was writing, Kenan Malics’ opinion piece this weekend (looking at a recent controversy in the publishing world) helped bring some additional structure to my thinking, which in the institutional jargon is usually called ‘Equalities, Diversity and Inclusion’, EDI for short. His simple point, “equality and diversity are not synonymous,” helped me to straighten some of the untidy piles of ideas that I’d built up over the past several years. This is because, in my experience in our sector, the two are very often used interchangeably. Malic’s point is that diversity as a goal can be used to make the distribution of inequality ‘fairer’ but continue to leave the most marginalised people out of the conversation.

sticky note reading 'it's all about human connection'Here at Culture Republic we’ve a mission to help Scotland’s creative and cultural community attract and serve the widest-possible audience. Most of the people we work with commit to an EDI project because they feel strongly that diversifying their audience base is the right thing to do. If your motivation is equality, then use our series to learn from your peers and make sure your EDI policies and practice will help you deliver on your goals.

Main image credit: Lively Conversation by Didricks (CC BY 2.0)