6 March 2022
This time the legislative debate and policy section focused on what arts organisations could implement to improve situations for staff and communities from different backgrounds.
Here, Community Leader Charlotte Watts shares her thoughts on the event and the outcomes.
What was most exciting moment from the event, and why?
The process of having those in attendance contribute their ideas for policy change and participate in the process of deconstructing the often carefully concealed inequalities in the Arts sector was very exciting, especially as most there were working in that sector and willing to critique it.
Another important moment was that in which an audience member highlighted during the policy making process, the fact that physical access needs are often still hugely forgotten in arts institutions and events programming. They felt it was the most neglected area of equality, diversity and inclusion considerations and I can see why from my own observations. I have witnessed only a tiny number of truly physically accessible institutions, events and festivals. This was then taken on board by the policy makers.
I did feel however that it would have been great to see more people at the event who were not from already within arts organisations, but perhaps the local community or previous beneficiaries or participants within socially engaged or cocreated arts projects.
How did it feel to gather again after all these months, and to practice this kind of facilitation in person, perhaps with a bigger crowd than before?
Apart from being a community leader for Union Chapel on this project, I have been an artist, facilitator and performer for many years and love nothing more to be on a stage and interact with people in a live setting so it was a great feeling to be back doing that and feel that buzz.
For me personally, it was quite scary as I am extremely clinically vulnerable to Covid-19 due to my disability and it was the busiest room I had been in for a long time and not many were choosing to wear masks. Perhaps policy around this could have been considered more carefully.
That aside, it sounds like a cliché but there was a lot of energy in the audience and people seemed hungry and activated to discuss inequalities in the arts and readdressing these. I was sad not to have been able to attend the rest of the festival due to existing work commitments as the programming looked fantastic.
What was the most compelling or impactful policy idea that came up, for you?
It is hard to pick out one thing as there was so much that came from the audience that the policy-makers had to categorise and amalgamate them but I think that it was fairer and more accessible application and interview processes in arts organisations - just offering a video application as an alternative is not enough. People’s merits need to be reviewed in different ways in the same way they are in education settings to some extent. I know of very few fellow disabled people who have substantial employment in the arts and if they do it is never mid or senior level.
I also think getting more people from the communities that organisations are supposed to be benefitting actually proposing and having the opportunity to lead projects was an important policy. This is how we can create real change and work for people who are marginalised. I think Strike a Light said that they already do this to some extent but some organisations believe they are fulfilling co-creation through some kind of minimal consultation of beneficiaries. I can say this as I have witnessed it and even to some extent, been part of it.
Mental health and disability leave policies are also close to my heart, rather than people like myself living in fear of being fired (and in some instances losing their jobs) for taking time off for access reasons.
Finally, I valued the idea of less hierarchical structures in organisations- there is so much ego and privilege at play in this and it needs to change as do pay structures where someone is paid significantly more to make all of the decisions than the staff that hold an organisation up.
I look forward to hearing, hopefully, that some of the commitments the policy makers made are actually being put in progress in their organisations - this is what legislative theatre is for after all. Making people reconsider their privileges and power as well where they lack power or are oppressed and become activists for change.
Hopefully if a few arts organisations start to make some pioneering changes more will follow.