As part of my role as a researcher at Birmingham Centre for Media and Cultural Studies, I was recently invited to evaluate Re:Present, a new programme of activities which seeks to transform the diversity of Birmingham’s cultural leadership. As researcher / evaluator my focus will be twofold: the individual participants’ experience and the significance of the programme in relation to Birmingham’s cultural ecology.
Created and delivered by Helga Henry of Creative Shift and Lara Ratnaraja, Re:Present is funded by Birmingham City Council and Arts Council England, with the additional support of University of Birmingham, Birmingham City University and Aston Business School. But Re:Present is also best described as a very personal project for Lara and Helga. Having worked with Birmingham’s cultural industries for over 15 years, they have witnessed significant changes in the cultural landscape during that period of time. Re:Present was created in response to their concerns and what they perceive as a lack of opportunities for individuals from ‘diverse’ backgrounds. I will explore the idea of ‘diversity’ in future posts but for this first blog post, I describe the context for this initiative.
Led by national governments, the cultural industries enjoyed unprecedented attention in the 2000s (Banks, 2007) followed by severe cuts in funding as a result of Osbourne’s austerity measures (BBC, 2010; Dellot, 2014). At a local level and in their roles as ‘intermediaries’ (Maguire, 2014) the Re:Present team identified diversity and cultural leadership in Birmingham, as an issue for both micro-independent cultural activities and established institutions. Recent cuts in funding, nationally (BBC, 2010) and locally (Brennan, 2015), have shifted priorities and little attention has been paid to addressing issues of diversity which had been significant in Birmingham, as identified by the director of Birmingham’s bid for European capital of culture in 2008 (also see Arts Council England West Midlands News, 2007).
Furthermore, the dismantling of many local support systems such as the Regional Development Agencies (in 2012) and Business Link’s Creative, Cultural and Digital Industries unit, suggests that there are less opportunities for networking and for enterprising new projects across Birmingham’s cultural industries. The result is a concern that the next generation of cultural leaders from diverse backgrounds are not being nurtured or given the opportunities which to some degree, were available pre-austerity. The assumption is that this is a period in which basic survival mechanisms across the sector may lead to an environment which does not take note of some of the policies developed under New Labour. For instance, Birmingham’s Cultural Strategy document, Big City Culture 2010-15 says very little about diversity in terms of Birmingham’s ethnic diversity. As the Warwick Commission argues:
The diversity of the creative workforce in Britain has progressively contracted over the past five years in relation to gender, ethnicity and disability, as data collected by the relevant Sector Skills Councils show…The stark reality is that the possibility to express oneself artistically and creatively at a professional level is curtailed by social background and personal characteristics to an unacceptable degree, as many campaigns and media declarations by high-profile members of the British cultural and creative community have pointed out. The situation raises serious questions about the extent to which the cultural and creative sector fulfills the requirements of the Equality Act 2010. (2014, p.35)
Particularly for the publicly funded arts, cuts to funding raise concerns about how the cultural and creative industries can address a lack of diversity in the workforce, including in its leaders. With this in mind, Re:Present aims to develop the skills and knowledge of a diverse group of 30 participants, selected for the programme. As a pilot project, it also seeks to explore the methods for developing and nurturing leadership skills. Furthermore, and given that participants have self-identified as ‘diverse’ the programme opens up the opportunity for questioning what we mean by ‘diversity’ and indeed ‘cultural leadership’.
In my next blog post, I will investigate the specificity of ‘cultural leadership’ drawing on Sutherland and Gosling’s (2010) study, Cultural Leadership: Mobilizing Culture from Affordances to Dwelling.
Banks, M. (2007) The Politics of Cultural Work, (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan).
BBC (2010) Spending Tax Review 2010: George Osborne wields the axe, Available at: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-11579979 (Accessed: 30 April 2014).
Brennan, C (2015) Arts Cuts Deaden our Regions. Online. Available at: http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/dec/13/arts-funding-cuts-regions-badly-affected-econom-ic-stupidity (Accessed: 7 March 2015)
Dellot, B. (2014) New RSA and JRF Project: Boosting the living standards of the self-employed, Available at: http://www.rsablogs.org.uk/2014/enterprise/rsa-jrf-project-boosting-living-standards-selfemployed/ (Accessed 6th August 2014).
Maguire, J. (2014) The Cultural Intermediaries Reader, (London: Sage Publishing Ltd)
Sutherland, I. and Gosling, J. (2010) Cultural Leadership: Mobilizing Culture from Affordances to Dwelling, The Journal of Arts Management, Law and Society, (40) p. 6-26
The Warwick Commission, (2014) Enriching Britain: Culture, Creativity and Growth.
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