Cultural Leadership and Diversity

Project: Research

Project Details


The focus of this research will be to identify the degree of under representation of BME leaders in the cultural sector. The research will provide the basis for further research into approaches that might be used to address this under representation by providing initial findings on the perceptions of a small number of key informants (10 – 15). This material will then be used as the basis for making a full bid to either the ESRC or the Arts Council.

We wish to use the key informants to gain a picture of any perceived barriers to entry and progression within senior management and leadership in the cultural sector which affect the BME population in London. Calls such as the New Directions in Social Policy: Cultural Diversity for museums, libraries and archives (MLA 2004) and the introduction of schemes such as Inspire (Arts Council 2005) demonstrate the timely nature of such research.

A mainly qualitative approach is proposed for this particular study because it offers the opportunity to look in more depth at the experiences and insights of black and minority ethnic (BME) arts administrators in the sector in London, and possible factors leading to their under-representation, particularly in leading and influential posts.

Key findings

BME people seem to enter the arts and cultural sector freely and on the same or similar bases as the general population. Though attitudes towards the arts differs widely across ethnicity and class, and family influences are important, but there seems to be no across the board impediment to entry. Indeed the demand for ethnically based art has increased in the past two to three decades. The main issue is not about ‘art’ but about the artist.

Educational experiences are the next important stage, and there is evidence that BME students do not receive the same treatment at school, FE or HE compared with their White peers with regard to encouragement, and practical advice and support, either on the curriculum or careers. The previous accusation of the curriculum being either colour blind or Anglo-centric has less validity now, though until HE staff reflect the ethnic population of students it is still likely to err on the side of stereotype with regard to the art of the non-European canon. Fortunately, many of the BME artists and administrators retained a strong link with education and have therefore contributed to the ethnic diversity within educational institutions. The links between art and politics are many and political motivation is an important factor in entry to the sector, i.e. the idea that art is w way of putting something back into or mobilising the community.

Any study of arts and culture cannot ignore the central role of public funding and how that is applied because it also reflects back on the nature of management and leadership in the sector. Local government and in the last ten years central government have been important sources. Self-financing is another possibility, either through ones’ art or another vocation, like teaching. While some institutions encouraged entry through apprentice-type schemes this did not much to increase the numbers of BME people in the arts and culture sector progressing to positions of management and leadership. Much management experience is gained through osmosis – ‘sitting by Nellie’ – rather than in any planned fashion, and although there are now training courses and qualifications in management (especially the MBA) in the arts, there has been little planned action to address the under-representation of BME people in the sector. Consequently, the burden has fallen on BME organisations themselves and individuals re-qualifying and additionally-qualifying to produce the credentials that will impress the appointment panels. Leadership, however, is not something one can train for and has something to do with expertise, character, vision and hard work. Leaders can emerge or they can be assigned and it is the former that attract the respect of practitioners, although the latter often get the kudos. Leadership takes time, however, and running an arts organisation as well as producing your own art too is time-consuming enough without the additional responsibility of being a spokesperson for your art and your people.

One of the functions of leadership, apart from arguing for scarce resources, is to combat discrimination, which still exists even if it is not rife within the sector. The usual package of ‘racial’ discrimination exists including prejudicial appointments boards, unequal treatment, stereotypical attitudes informing crucial decisions (with regard to funding for example), blatant manipulation of community politics, disregard for the particular needs of specified groups. There has not been much in the way of positive action taken to address any of these problems, and in general BME artists and groups have been left to themselves to deal with and overcomes the combined effects of institutional discrimination and disadvantage.
Effective start/end date16/01/0614/07/06