Sharon Heal

Good measures

Sharon Heal, 17.12.2014
Cuts could undermine small steps made towards diversity
In Peter Bazelgette's speech about diversity in the arts sector last week he called for a "fundamental shift" to broaden audiences and programmes so that they better represent communities across England.

Ever since I've worked in the sector various initiatives have aimed at achieving this, from access and inclusion projects, to workforce programmes such as the Museums Association's (MA) Diversify scheme.

And yet nothing much has changed, and I wonder now if the public sector cuts, which are really harming some institutions, will further undermine any small steps forward that have been made.

Last week I was in Birmingham for an MA conference planning meeting. I always like to get a feel of what makes a region or nation special when it hosts our conference. Among the many things that people associate with the Midlands – heavy metal, the maker-movement, industry – diversity comes up high on a list of defining attributes.

And Birmingham museums have long led the way in striving to achieve audiences and a workforce that are representative of the local population.

For example at Aston Hall, 46% of visitors are from C2DE social grades – a 24% increase compared with 2013, and proportions of people from non-white ethnic groups have more than doubled at the venue.

But how much longer can they go on doing that in the face of swingeing cuts? The council recently announced plans to cut 6,000 jobs and reduce services to make savings of more than £300m.

Among the proposed cuts is a reduction in opening hours for the stunning new Library of Birmingham, from over 70 hours a week to just 40 if the proposal goes through. And of course museums will face their share of the pain.

In his speech, Bazalgette said that the arts council will hold Major Partner Museums to account if they don’t fully embrace diversity. And it was great that he talked about diversity in the full spectrum of equality around gender, class, ethnicity, disability and age.

From next year, funded organisations’ workforce diversity plans will be published, along with any progress they have made to reflect the communities they serve. This is a welcome move and I hope it will provide meaningful measures of diversity across institutions.

To be able to judge progress you need to know the baseline. It’s only six years since politicians and cultural leaders alike were trumpeting the end of targets and the move from "measurement to judgment" that was heralded in the McMaster report.

Unfortunately, the baby seems to have been thrown out with the bath water.

In order to promote, encourage and support diversity in all forms, measurement, targets and plans are needed.


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MA Member
17.12.2014, 16:59
I agree, but the cuts are undermining everything, not only diversity. ACE Major Partner Funding can only go so far, and its effects will be negated if core funding from Councils is reduced to the pitiful levels that some places are proposing.