Improving diversity in the arts – why we need more than just talk

Diversity issues quite rightly have been much discussed in the arts and creative industries for some time now. There are a few examples of traditional arts bodies such as galleries, museums and performing arts organisations which are blazing the trail in the area, although sadly, this doesn’t say much about representation in the other creative industries’ sectors.

The Arts Council England has placed the issue of diversity at the heart of its agenda and its funding requirements are clear about the importance of a commitment to inclusion for applications. So far so good.

Addressing the many and complex issues relating to inclusion and representation means that a long-term commitment to change is required and this means action and not just talk. Here are four questions every organisation should be considering:

1. Do we have a robust, target-led equality plan in place?
Developing, practically using, and regularly reviewing an effective equality plan, underpinned with audience insight and measurable data combined with assigned ownership of tasks and associated deadlines is the bedrock of any commitment to equality, diversity and inclusion. A policy that sits in a draw gathering dust won’t get you very far.
2. How robust is our monitoring and what are we doing with the data?
Staff as well as audience measures are vital together with plans for targeting under-represented groups.
3. Do we have representation at every level of employment?
From entry to senior and board/trustee levels and front of house as well as back of house – employee attraction which is inclusive not exclusive should be a priority.
4. How are we engaging with future generations? Do we have a progressive outreach programme in place?
Proactive commitment to initiatives that appeal to a wide range of people of all ages, with a view to enhancing accessibility of the arts is important for the future of the industry.

Even if all or the majority of the above work is being done, one area that can be overlooked is outbound communications.

Predominantly white, middle class, socially mobile, ageing audiences are the mainstay of too many arts environments UK wide. Marketing literature, websites, social media feeds and email communications are often pitched to talk to the above audience demographic. If this is not changed then the profile of audience attraction is likely to remain the same.

Here’s our plan for what arts organisations can do to ensure macro rather than micro appeal through communications activity:

1. Gather insight
Speak to your audience directly. If you have the budget think about commissioning some third party research. Alternatively organise focus groups, identify and speak to groups that attract your underrepresented audiences and ask for honest feedback and opinion on your communications materials.

2. Audit your communications output and content creation
Review your channels (website/literature/email/social media/advertising). Consider your tone of voice, the images of people you use, where you advertise, locate your leaflets/flyers, offers and incentives, language.

3. Develop partnerships to build relationships
Working collaboratively with other organisations is a good way to reach new audiences and broaden your appeal. This can also be helpful for attracting staff; consider specific incentives on attendance to charities, faith organisations, youth groups, schools and colleges, training bodies etc.

4. Adapt your tone of voice
Be approachable and inclusive. It’s easy to use jargon and highbrow language that may be off-putting to potential audiences

5. Be creative
Don’t be afraid to try new initiatives and push boundaries. Playing it safe all the time will not bring about the changes in the arts that benefit us all.

As an agency team we are proactive, passionate campaigners for better equality and representation in our sector. We have a strong track record and proven expertise in working on many campaigns that have put diversity of output and reaching a range of audiences as commercial objectives.

If you would like to know more or arrange an informal chat we’d love to share our expertise in this area. Please get in touch: