THE WORD To survive, the arts must tackle inequality of opportunity

To combat the corrosive effects of racism, exclusion and Covid-19, the cultural sector needs to act now, says Maria Adebowale-Schwarte, CEO of the Foundation for Future London

The arts and culture industry stands at a crossroads. Covid-19 and rampant inequality has forced the sector to radically review its role and question its survival. 

The hard facts: the creative industries is looking at a £77bn turnover loss by the end of 2020, and London will see over 50% of that loss. Talking to diverse arts and culture freelancers and organisations, the impact is most significant on people who felt that doors had never been opened, despite skills, commitment, talent and ideas. If you are Black, Asian, minority ethnic, disabled, female, working-class, or LGBTQIA+ you’re more likely to be impacted by reduced funding and lack of grant opportunities and employment in the sector.

The Foundation for Future London focuses on ensuring East Bank, for instance, is an inclusive cultural quarter, and shaping our fundraising and funding strategy is a belief that the culture sector must be everyone. We cannot afford merely to talk about being inclusive, we need to fearlessly invest in eradicating racism, prejudice and inequality. If the sector, and those who support it, cannot or will not do this, then they should have no role in its future. To turn this around, the sector must step up and actively remove barriers and institutional racism, provide platforms and value lived experience. 

When FFL fundraises for East Bank — the new cultural quarter in East London spread across the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park and including buildings for University College London, Sadler’s Wells, the V&A, the London College of Fashion and the BBC - we are focused not only on world class culture but building a place commitment to disrupting racism and inequality. If anyone still needs to be convinced, research illustrates that diversity increases innovation, stops herd-thinking and builds resilience.

FFL is committing time and resources to measure and improve our progress on diversity, equity and inclusion, by:

*          Investing in resources and skills

*          Producing and reviewing strategies

*          Collecting and tracking data

*          Having a diverse board, staff and stakeholders

*          Reflecting and implementing best practice

*          Expressing our commitment to policy and practice

*          Being accountable

*          Advocating and advancing best inclusive practice

*          Collaborating with others

*          Investing in knowledge equity and the value of lived experience


It’s also vital that funders and donors as well as ourselves are just as committed to equity and diversity as they are to culture.

The FFL works with the City of London Corporation and Culture Mile to invest in collaborative culture sector partnerships and grant funding. One example is Fusion Prize which ran workshops and events focusing on creative and critical thinking, and culminated in a £50,000 prize to use creativity to upskill future generations to succeed in the 21stcentury. The first winner, announced in October, was The Pattern, an alternative curriculum for young people aged over 18 to access the creative and cultural industries which have previously been out of reach for them.

One driving theme in the recently set up the Culture and Commerce Taskforce is that diverse talent is fundamental to an inclusive and thriving economy. This group of senior leaders across sectors has been regularly meeting to put in place practical actions for sectors to work together to support the creative sector.

With Westfield Stratford City’s support we have launched Westfield East Bank Creative Futures Fund, an ambitious five-year flagship project that will invest £10m into local boroughs with some of most diverse communities in London, providing jobs, learning, training and educational programmes through arts, culture, innovation, public realm and creative placemaking.

The lethal cocktail of Covid-19, racism, prejudice, exclusion and increasing levels of poverty needs the sector to be a catalyst - a platform opening opportunities to jobs, business, skills, and investment in local places and economies -for everyone.

If the arts and cultural sector is to tackle inequality, there must always be seats at the table for the many, not the few.

As well as being CEO of the Foundation for Future London, Maria Adebowale-Schwarte is the founder of urban placemaking think tank consultancy Living Space Project and Inaugural Fellow at the Centre for Knowledge Equity, Skoll Centre, University of Oxford. She is also the author of The Place Making Factor, and a member of the Culture and Commerce Taskforce chaired by the Lord Mayor in partnership with the City of London Corporation and Culture Mile.



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