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Barriers to increasing diversity

I think the mistake I made was delegating it in the first place to others because I wanted more people to be in this organisation to be involved in it. But fundamentally it needs leadership. Gregory Nash, The Point

Barriers to increasing diversity

If you want to increase the diversity of your programme or the work that you do – great! Here are some of the barriers arts managers might face and how to overcome them.

‘There is a lack of diverse product’/’I don’t know what’s out there’/’Don’t know enough about it’/’Don’t know anyone or where to start’

The only answer here is to do some research. Remember, to search out new work from different sources or new people has time/capacity implications; if you are to do it, it needs to be prioritised and resourced. You have to be quite motivated to go to different events, meet new people, ask around and track down new options.

There is no magic wand – no single organisation you can contact will be able to tell you everything you need to know. You can however use web resources such as DAO - disabilityartsonline and organisations such as DADA south, the disability arts development agency for the southern region of England , the National Disability Arts Collection and Archive – based at Holton Lee or Unlimited, the disability strand of the Cultural Olmpiad to give you some starting points.

Its true that it can be hard to assess the diversity of artists – how much can you ask and when? Be open, be aware and ask. Remember that legally you have a responsibility to ask if an artist requires any support (disability access) but they also have a responsibility to then tell you or you can’t be expected to make any reasonable adjustments. Most funders expect you to keep basic equal opportunities information on who you work with.

‘We only have limited human and financial resources’/’We don’t have time to do something new’/’ Not enough people to cover all focuses (disability, diversity, age, gender, class, etc)’

There are two ways to tackle this – firstly, no one is expecting you to do everything all at once, but you can build some research into what you already do. At its most basic level, it shouldn’t take extra time – if you are a programmer and going to the Edinburgh Fringe, for example, make a commitment to chasing down some disability product along with your usual fare. Secondly, time and money are about priorities – are there ways to convince your board or manager that you need some space and resources in order to do this well?

‘Our audience as they are now – how do we take them with us?’/’Limited expectations of audiences’/ ‘Lack of audience demand’

Build audiences slowly and surely and don’t just assume ‘diverse product’ is for ‘diverse audiences’. Provide ways for people to sample product (trailers, pre and after show experiences at other events, mini events before a larger event and so on). Talk to audiences and talk to your front line staff – they should know the kinds of questions people might have and might need some help in providing answers and reassurance. Check out some of the techniques piloted during new audiences projects (test drives, using ambassadors and so on) – some might be right for you to try too. Don’t make assumptions about your audience – they might surprise you.

‘Control structures within our organisation’/’Lack of a culture of risk taking’/’Financial limitations – we need to make money and this can lead to ‘safe’ programming’

Hard ones these – again, slow and steady wins the race. Working with diversity at the centre needn’t be risky, many diverse artists work in a mainstream way, can you first look to ‘broaden out from the edges’, looking for artists and work which is very similar to what you already do, but with a twist? You could look for additional funding to trial a programme of work, giving space and time for research and development as well as to fully market and promote it, evaluate it and then take that to your board and funders hopefully dispelling myths about diverse work leading to lost income (usually this is only the case if work is programmed as a quick fix and no audience development or preparation work takes place). You need to make the case to those in control that organisations in the arts need to develop and move forward in order to survive.

‘Our limiting beliefs and expectations’/’Lack of awareness within ourselves of what we don’t know’/’Our own assumptions about the work and its quality’

Work out what you do know and what you are just imagining. It can be useful to look back over your programming for the last three years (to assess diversity in relation to programming – who are the artists/companies you are working with, what kinds of work are you involved in, who is the audience/s etc), Some organisations are surprised at the range of work they are involved in, others are surprised how similar and samey their work appears in retrospect. In the same way, look over some of your assumptions. Are they based on fact or just a rumour you heard five years back. Who ever you work with, whatever you programme, an overriding factor should and must be quality – if, after much research you are genuinely convinced there is no work available from the groups/individuals you want to work with or represent at the quality you need then how can you be part of driving the quality upwards? Can you become involved in hosting placements, running competitions, offering training, working with training providers? Keep yourself refreshed. Keep on top of current debates and information in relation to your artform and diversity.

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