UpRise open letter to nitroBEAT and the Barbican: organisers of ‘The D Word’
‘Diversity’, but whose diversity is it?
Open letter sent to the Barbican and nitroBEAT – 10th May 2015:
Dear Diane Morgan and Louise Jeffreys,
With respect to my commitment to equality and transparency, I am writing you an open letter following my recent communications with you regarding ‘The D Word’.
‘The D Word’ was publicised on your website on 26th November 2014, as a follow on event emanating from the panel discussion regarding ‘Exhibit B’ at Theatre Royal Stratford East on 22nd September 2014, of which I took part.
I am very disappointed in the dismissive and disingenuous way in which my communications have been dealt with.
To set the context, I think it pertinent to remind you that I gave up my time for free to take part in the panel discussion of 22nd September, such is my commitment to issues of equality, diversity and inclusivity – a lifetime’s work for me. I think it also relevant to raise that during the meeting I attended with the Barbican board and senior staff on 11th September 2014, the Barbican referred to the lack of diversity at the decision making level, and raised a passionate willingness to work with the attendees on developing a better understanding of diversity, with a view to implementing a strategy.
In terms of the work done by UpRise to honour our own ongoing commitment, we have met and spoken at length with various people involved in and around ‘Exhibit B’, and participated in the “Does the right to protest override the right to freedom of artistic expression in the UK?” discussion on 16th March at the House of Commons, by presenting a formal question to the panel on institutional homogeneity and the excluded voices of communities.
As an organisation with legitimate knowledge and expertise, we have also been asked to contribute to an information pack where ‘Exhibit B’ is a case study, with our authoritative views on the complex issues it tapped into, and why we supported the request for it be decommissioned. All of this work has been done gratis.
Our commitment to equality is not refined to a single event, but is something we work on and address daily, across all aspects of our work. We are equally at home whether working closely with Baroness Doreen Lawrence on the ‘Unity’ concert, or working with the skateboarders and street artists of Southbank Undercroft.
On the basis of our work, UpRise was invited to participate at ‘The R Word’ a year ago; a very similar participatory and Interactive initiative to ‘The D Word’ event, organised by Shabnam Shabazi in May 2014 and held at Sadler’s Wells Theatre.
I was hugely disappointed that upon reaching out to nitroBEAT, instead of being invited to attend the event and conversation, I was directed to purchasing a ticket and told ‘ I hope that you are able to contribute to, attend or organise an event that fits your agenda more closely’.
This insensitive response prompted me to contact the Barbican having been told by nitroBEAT that ‘it is a nitroBEAT and Barbican event’. I received the response that ‘ The D word is actually being led by nitroBEAT rather than the Barbican so it’s best to get in touch with them’ and that ‘The Barbican, along with a number of other arts organisations and the Arts Council, have provided funding to try and ensure this event is affordable to both artists and organisations so I hope the subsidised ticket prices enable as many people as possible to attend’.
My response stating; ‘ it’s worth noting that £25 and £45 for the majority of artists and organisations we work with is not affordable. £25 for an event, particularly one that is a think tank, is certainly not affordable for me and excludes some of the most interesting and dynamic voices in arts and culture today’, received no reply.
As a working class artist, I am well-used to the severe lack of empathy that exists with regard to fiscal limitations to the many artists like me, and the preconceptions of my supposed abilities and the snobbery that exists within ‘highbrow’ arts.
Anyone who works in the arts knows that the elephant in the room is not the diversity of artists and performers, as the UK has some of the most diverse artists in the world, but the homogeneity of decision makers, boardrooms and art-institution audiences. Since 2010 UpRise has been presenting the lacking in Cognitive Diversity in these areas and the affect this top-down approach has. Yet we see little has changed. Something highlighted in the Warwick Commission’s ’Enriching Britain: Culture, Creativity and Growth’ published and launched this year. This is why UpRise is known to be thought-provoking and ground-breaking and has worked tenaciously at being independent-financed and with our honesty and ability to direct, mediate and take part in, complex and difficult conversations around equality and inclusivity.
What we all too often find that if you upset the status quo apple cart then you find yourself ostracised from institutional arts, even if you are the voice of public opinion such as in the case of Boycott The Human Zoo and Long Live Southbank campaigns which garnered 22,000 and 150,000 voices respectively.
Why have the voices that sparked this very event been censored from contributing to the conversation?
Diversity is not about being comfortable, it is about understanding why you feel uncomfortable with difference. Being selective in the conversation creates a compartmentalised and fragmented approach whereas we should be having a networked, collaborative and sustainable strategy.
The issue of organisational led initiatives on diversity is that the institutes themselves are struggling to implement their own diversity at the top level of decision making.
The integral aspect is not what you do, but who you are reaching and connecting to.
And the question isn’t diversity, but whose diversity is it?
Paul Richards, UpRise
What lessons? What legacy?
UpRise – we are not troublemakers ~ we are troublebreakers and troubleshakers!
Photo of Exhibit B by Psofie Knijff. From public domain.
Image below taken from Nitro website.