April 2018, Bristol
“Let’s think back to when Doing Things Differently happened last: It was 18 months ago during a beautifully sunny September. I remember lots of shows, some great debates and our circus company Extraordinary Bodies performing ‘Weighting’ in Castle Park. There was such brilliant work across the city. Many contributors are here today in this room.
So, what has happened in the last 18 months?
There has been enormous social change: the exposure of systemic gender violence through the #TimesUp and #MeToo movements; real discussion of the gender pay gap; people waking up to the plastic in our oceans… There have been some joyful moments – like the film ‘Black Panther’ and marriage equality vote in Australia – but this is set against the disgrace in the treatment of the ‘Windrush’ generation by our government.
Why do we need to Do Things Differently?
Because the best ideas and talent are everywhere across all sections of society. We have to work towards diversity because inequality persists. In the Arts, we are not ‘the good guys’ – Banking has a more diverse workforce – the recent Panic Report1 released by Create London and Arts Emergency revealed that only 18% of workforce in the performing arts, visual arts and music are from a working-class background.
What is more we know it is a problem. And we move in small social circles.
Doing Things Differently is important because at the moment a narrow group of people are still deciding what is ‘good’ or ‘excellent’ and what is a good quality of life.
How do we set about Doing Things Differently?
Step into the power you have.
Build a new workplace culture in the arts.
Be who we really are.
Step into the power you have personally to bring about change
Ask ‘What could I do tomorrow?’ Use the concept of ‘an inclusion rider’ like Hollywood stars are doing “I won’t work on this unless….” Refuse to participate unless there is full representation on a panel or project
Build a new workplace culture in the arts
There has been a focus on changing the representation of minority groups, but not on changing what people come into or join. People are under-represented because the current structures do not work for them. As Audre Lorde – a black lesbian feminist activist said:
“The masters tools will not dismantle the masters house”
We could have senior roles that are not full time and shared leadership for our major organisations to allow more people to participate. We could have learning disabled people on every board so that organisations take into account the needs of a huge unheard part of the adult population. We could match our workdays to the school day so we can all collect our kids from school. Would we really get less done in 6 hours a day?
Being who we really are
Do you know the song “This is me” from the film Greatest Showman? My daughter and I dance to it. There is a moment where the bearded lady sings ‘There is a place for us for we are glorious’. We need to challenge the idea that to get on we have to hide the personal and be ‘professional’. Speaking about hidden conditions, mental health, our children, our grief, our wounds, and our privilege is key: The ‘mess’ of our lives is where our knowledge lies.
Someone who has cared for a really sick child, a parent with dementia, a close friend living with cancer; anyone who has lived with a disability, or through anxiety and depression is leadership material.
I want someone to lead me who knows how to navigate adversity. People who face barriers of racism, sexism, disablism and class prejudice know about adversity. If as a sector we want to know about resilience, let someone who is homeless or a refugee tell us.
We are in a ludicrous situation where you have to hide adversity to fit in, yet it is that very knowledge we need to build our industry to deal with rapidly changing times.
So, in that very spirit, ‘this is me’:
I am 47. I am a daughter, sister, mother, I have lived with chronic eczema all my life, I have benefitted enormously from the privilege of being white. I come from a working-class background. I am also menopausal.
Thirty years ago, I came to Bristol to study Drama at the University. I believed then in a meritocracy – that if I worked hard enough I would get the breaks I needed. Ten years later whilst running a department in a University I discovered two men that I managed were being paid far more than me.
The Panic Report revealed that people who believe in meritocracy most are those who have with privilege.
The expertise in this room is immense – there is great life experience and enormous creativity. We need to remove barriers systematically so that everyone can participate – lets reimagine the culture of the arts.