Sorcha Carey is the director of the Edinburgh Art Festival


Issue 115/03, p15, 04.03.2015
How can we make the arts less elitist?
Sorcha Carey, director, Edinburgh Art Festival

“We need to find ways to share more and more widely – to bring art out of conventional spaces and into our daily vocabulary.

We at Edinburgh Art Festival have been commissioning artists to make works for public sites in Edinburgh for a number of years now and, crucially, we find that this in turn brings new audiences back into galleries.

It’s also critical to introduce young people to the spaces –and to the language of art – from a very young age. This will help to foster a sense of ownership and confidence that will remain for life.”

Ellen McAdam, director,Birmingham Museums Trust

“How about…

  • Communities voting on regional arts spending.
  • Learning mainstream arts from nursery onwards.
  • Making ballet an Olympic sport.
  • Putting a Strictly Arts Talent show on prime-time TV.
  • Creating arts apprenticeships and an Artpower Services Commission.
  • Providing free music lessons for the unemployed.
  • Poets composing the news.
  • Playing opera at half-time in Premier League footie matches.
  • Making bankers’ bonuses conditional on literary ability.
  • Cloning Grayson Perry?”

Ernst Vegelin, head, Courtauld Gallery, London

“In 1943, Samuel Courtauld asserted: ‘Art is not reserved for the wealthy, the idle and the learned.’ Elitism is a condition of limited opportunity and educational institutions have a vital role in training the arts leaders of the future, irrespective of background.

Elitism is reinforced by undervaluing art as not essential for all. We must empower, especially in our schools, an understanding of art as a vital part of human experience. Art world elitism is less likely in a society where art and creative expression are claimed as inherent and universal.”

Sharon Heal, director, Museums Association

“We could make the arts less elitist by opening up entry routes into the sector and diversifying the workforce. Creative Apprenticeships are one good way to do this. Museums Galleries Scotland’s Heritage Horizons Traineeship Programme, funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund, is a good example of a practical measure to diversify the workforce and audiences.

Having a workforce that reflects the rich diversity of local communities would help museums open up to those groups that don’t normally visit: if you see yourself there, you are more likely to come.”


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Rebecca Atkinson
MA Member
Online Publications Editor, Museums Association
01.04.2015, 11:36
Yes cultural organisations should put aside their prejudices and be open to everyone - but judging from the current "face" of the sector, they aren't.

I recently heard that an organisation tried blind recruitment, where they didn't ask for candidates names, and found they had a lot more people from non-traditional backgrounds (specifically BAME) invited to interview. That suggests that prejudices are a factor in recruitment, even if people aren't aware of it.
27.03.2015, 11:15
Opportunities for members of all classes and backgrounds to enter the arts and heritage fields are arguably more numerous now than they have ever been.As long as employers can put aside their cultural and class prejudices and recognise that candidates for posts have the necessary knowledge and enthusiasm for the position I can't see that there are any problems facing candidates from non traditional backgrounds Museums and Art galleries have a big enough physical and cultural profile in the community and are, in most cases, free.I can';t see how outreach campaigns targeted at schools will prove more likely to engage the so called neglected members of our communities than TV programmes do--and these are already breaking down cultural barriers.
If a child from an under privileged background wants to learn, he or she will seek out inspiration. I always cite the case of A.L.Rowse, the historian, who came from a working class Cornish family. Elitism in that county of squires and landed interest did not prevent him from landing a scholarship to Oxford --the only one, I believe, in that county, nearly a hundred years ago. He succeeded despite his class disadvantages simply because he wanted to learn.
Tony Butler
MA Member
Executive Director, Derby Museums Trust
04.03.2015, 14:48
I'm with Ellen McAdam (please don't refer to football as footie tho'!)

Also, a plea to use clear language. I want to see less use of deliberately obscurantist words.