Report seeks an end to ‘class crisis’ in the arts and cultural sectors

Article: David Styles | Image: © Outroslide Photography

A new report published by Jerwood Arts and the Bridge Group has called on employers to alter the practices which perpetuate a class divide within the UK arts sector.

The report authors hope the document can act as a “landmark blueprint” for tackling the perceived ‘class crisis’ in the industry, with the guide demonstrating to institutions how they can take measures to retain a more “socio-economically diverse workforce”.

Work opportunities in museums and galleries being unpaid and unadvertised, alongside the use of arts jargon are some of the key driving factors in discouraging certain groups from finding work in the sector, the new report claims.

Socio-economic Diversity and Inclusion in the Arts: A Toolkit for Employers has been published by Jerwood Arts and the Bridge Group, and draws on the industry intelligence and experience gathered through the Weston Jerwood Creative Bursaries 2017-19 programme’s decade of operations to date.

The Bridge Group’s research into increasing socio-economic diversity in the workplace and fostering inclusive organisational cultures, too, was a strong influence on the final document.

“Of all sectors, the arts must be where diversity and inclusion should be taken most seriously,” claimed Bridge Group Chief Executive, Nik Miller, adding that “works that explore, challenge and reflect contemporary society are naturally richer if they are informed by a wider range of social perspectives and experiences.”

The guide features case studies from arts employers and builds the argument that socio-economic background should be given the same consideration as ethnicity, disability, gender and other ‘protected characteristics’ which are legally protected from discrimination.

The report’s five key recommendations

  • Measure and publish information on socio-economic diversity, with occupation of parents when the applicant was 14 years old recommended as the key indicator and full guidance on how to collect and analyse the relevant data
  • Reflect on use of key terms like ‘talent’ and ‘merit’ – and avoid reference to potentially alienating words such as ‘disadvantage’ and ‘privilege’
  • Create more inclusive work cultures, for example by ending ‘informal sponsorship’ and considering specific support needs that those from lower socio-economic backgrounds might have
  • End unpaid and unadvertised work opportunities, with payment recommended for any work period over four weeks
  • Reform recruitment processes, for example by inviting candidates to reflect on their professional and personal journeys and any obstacles or barriers they have experienced

Jerwood Arts Director, Lilli Geissendorfer, says the organisation’s work over the past decade has given it a “unique view on what does and doesn’t work in recruiting those from lower socio-economic backgrounds,” and that the Toolkit can now share this directly with employers.

“We hope it will help anyone with the power to appoint and promote to make strategic changes to embed inclusive practices, and make the arts more excellent for all,” Geissendorfer concluded.

The report implores arts sector employers to take a “strategic rather than piecemeal approach” to levelling the playing field for people from low income backgrounds. This approach, the authors believe, must transcend simply promoting the social mobility of individuals, but rather put the emphasis on employers to create sustainable institutional change.

Arts Council England is one of the main financial supproters of the Weston Jerwood Creative Bursaries programme 2017-19, and the organisation’s Chief Executive, Darren Henley, noted: “We want to make sure that the people who create artistic work and run cultural organisations are representative of the way that England looks and feels today – and the same is true for audiences too.

“Our investment in this new toolkit is a step in helping this to happen – but there is still much to do.”