Resources Article

Creating Space Workshop Reflection

Creating Space Workshop Reflection, by Rebecca Lyons, Director of Collections & Learning, June 2020

A Zoom room in late June 2020, full of cultural leaders and a desire to confront the structural and institutional racism that pervades our museums, galleries, theatres and arts venues. Ten of us with two facilitators and quite a lot to discuss at a time of heightened tensions in the political sphere and a(nother) moment for redress in inclusion in the social and cultural life of the UK. 

In preparation for our workshop with Gaylene and Hilary we had all watched two short films, one a talk by Gaylene herself. In this talk Gaylene had spoken movingly about the sense of cultural neglect towards black audiences, and a sense of being less cared-for as a black cultural worker. The talk was powerful, moving and honest and Gaylene brough the same atmosphere to our Brilliant Routes session. Hearts racing, fingers and feet tapping, our anxiety levels were explored and interrogated as we spoke to one another in small groups and then in the wider group about the steps and mis-steps taken in work to address racial equity in predominantly white work environments. Rather than the networking so commonplace to cultural conferences, this was a space where we admitted the difficulties and shortcomings of our work in this area. The fact that we were back talking about this again, or as one of my interlocutors expressed it, facing a monster we had inadvertently created and enabled.

The second of the short preparatory films was a talk by Professor Linda Hill about the strengths of a diverse management team and workforce, and it was a reminder of the positive business aspect to inclusion and diversity, an emerging theme of the workshop. The energies in the workplace that come from differences explored and included, how that leads to innovation and strength and success. 

And all this energy and passion was the biggest result of this focus day for me. We love our work, our cultural world that we have created and contributed to over the years working our way up through the sector. But confronted with the inequities of our different experience in that world compared to our Black colleagues, horrified by the idea of a neglected audience, my initial feelings brought to the workshop were of guilt, sadness and inadequacy. What world have we created? How can we be proud of that when it leaves so many feeling un-cared-for? And how do we move beyond this almost paralysing sense of shame. 

But what use is that for leadership? Or creativity! So Gaylene and Hilary urged us beyond that initial painful recognition to remember the passion for what we do, and the excitement we feel every time we enter our galleries, performance spaces and cultural venues. And to set about taking that and committing to doing it with joy, relentlessly, inclusively, consciously, better and more equitably for all. 

Rebecca Lyons | Director of Collections & Learning

Rebecca Lyons was born and raised in Belfast, Northern Ireland before coming to England for university. She studied French and German, living in both countries latterly, and while living and working in France funded her own first trip to Italy where art and architecture became a passion. Changing focus at MA level, Rebecca studied C19th French and British art before joining the Education Department of the National Gallery, London. She worked there full-time and subsequently freelance, lecturing, writing and running the adult programmes, before taking up a role at Christie’s in the Education department.

Fifteen years later, leaving her role as the director of a world-leading M.Litt programme, she became the director of Royal Collection Studies for the Attingham Trust and Curator of Knole and Ightham Mote portfolios for the National Trust while also pursuing a PhD. She has been Director of Collections & Learning at the Royal Academy since June 2019 overseeing the permanent collection, library, archive, academic and learning programmes.

Themes Inclusive Leadership Practice