Provoking discussion: a note on diversity and equality

Blog
01/01/2015

A short provocation by Jamie Beddard and Sue Hoyle written for the What Next Young Vic chapter.

Diversity in the arts and media has been much spoken (and written about), but is the language a distraction? "Diversity" has become an abstract construct. It can be taken to suggest a society made up of monocultural individuals with single identities, defined by a sole “characteristic”. This bears little resemblance to the nuances and complexities of people's lived reality.

We would suggest there is an over-riding issue. Historically, UK society has been defined by class i.e. the possession of influence, power and wealth. For around 50 years, after WWII, it was easier for people to transcend the class into which they were born. This has become increasingly difficult and unlikely, as equality of opportunity diminishes.

For example in the area of cultural learning, most private schools recognise the value of the arts, and create opportunities for engagement. This has an impact on the arts world that we inhabit, including the make-up of our workforce: reportedly, for example, 64% of the most influential people in the media industry were privately educated (which is said to compare to 6.5% of the UK school age population).

We'd like to propose that WN?'s discussion on diversity focuses on power, influence and equality. It's our belief that "social justice" could begin to replace the term "diversity", to enable fundamental principles and values to propel change. If the arts seek public subsidy, they should reflect and engage the public, serving their communities as civic anchors.

Powerful people don't share or give up power easily. Action is needed across every area of our work, from cultural learning to governance. Alliances need to be made across and outside identity groups. Women would not have got the vote had men not voted for it.

The lifeblood of the arts is risk, innovation and new perspectives, stories and aesthetics. Those individuals who have been marginalised are in the box-seat to deliver.

We suggest that each arts organisation and individual engaged in WN? should make a pledge in relation to social justice and equality - a real initiative to make a real difference, which could be the start of concerted efforts to ensuring social justice, equality and advocacy underpin thinking and action. There is no more important time than now, in the face of uncertainty regarding political leadership, funding cuts and social flux.