Where am I? BAME Role Models and Leaders in Performing Arts


Clore Fellow Suzanne Gorman's AHRC research explores whether the visibility or invisibility of role models might be a factor in workers from BAME backgrounds attempting to establish a career in theatre.

Suzanne Gorman is Artistic Director of Maya Productions, a company making diverse theatre to create change.

In 1976 Naseem Khans report “The Arts Britain Ignores: The Arts of Ethnic Minorities in Britain.” was published. In 2016 at the “40 Years On. The Arts Britain Ignores and Diversity in Theatre” Conference at Curve Theatre, Leicester in October 2016, Naseem Khan, in her opening address, said “it’s ‘extraordinary’ that the issues around diversity and the arts remain as ‘sharp, troubling and vibrant as ever’ (Shaikh, 2016).

Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic artists still have low visibility in arts and culture. For instance, the Creative Skillset 2012 Census notes that the “representation of Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic people declined from 7.4% of the total workforce in 2006 to 6.7% in 2009 and is now just 5.4% in 2012” (p. 4).

What is the impact of such underrepresentation? Does this lack of visible representation for Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) members of society signal to individuals from nonwhite ethnic backgrounds that a career in the arts is not open to them? If what we see in the arts represents overwhelmingly white middle class male aesthetic, history, values and thinking, then how are others to value their own ideas, stories and ambitions if they are different and not represented? What would a world look and feel like if the people that we looked up to came from all kinds of backgrounds? If there were more black theatre designers, an Asian female artistic director of the National Theatre, more BAME drama workshop leaders in schools? Would this encourage a more diverse arts workforce?

This research project has explored the importance of BAME role models for developing a more diverse workforce. In doing so, it blends concerns of key sector bodies and a growing public
recognition that workforce diversity in the arts and culture is an issue that needs addressing (e.g. the recent #OscarsSoWhite, #BritsSoWhite, #Yellowface campaigns). 

Seeing is a skilled social practice - what we see and how we see it is intricately connected with the forms of social organisation within which we are all located and with which we have a matrix of connections