BAC’s David Jubb: ‘Old-fashioned hierarchies’ to blame for lack of diversity in theatre

David Jubb, artistic director of Battersea Arts Centre
David Jubb, artistic director of Battersea Arts Centre
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Battersea Arts Centre artistic director David Jubb has claimed the theatre industry consists of “old-fashioned hierarchies” that are excluding people from disadvantaged backgrounds.

He also suggested the language used by arts organisations is off-putting for audiences and aspiring theatre workers. He said it created barriers to wider engagement with theatre, music, dance and other creative pursuits.

The director was speaking at an event marking a year since the fire that destroyed the building’s Grand Hall, and revealed that designs for the rebuild have now been submitted to Wandsworth Council for planning permission.

Jubb said the arts centre’s current work was “not simply a response to the fire,” but instead was “fuelled by an urgent need to ensure that cultural organisations are relevant to everyone in our community”.

He then said: “There are some old-fashioned hierarchies in the arts, and we need to break them down.”

He continued: “Even the language we use sometimes I think creates barriers. For example, why do we say ‘the arts’ in this country? We don’t say ‘the sports’, or ‘the heritage’.”

“I think that language demonstrates that we’ve put the arts on a pedestal,” he added.

The director then suggested this was a contributing factor to the cultural divide highlighted in the 2015 Warwick Commission report, which revealed that the 8% most wealthy, best educated and least ethnically diverse people make up at least 28% of live theatre attendees.

“So perhaps [the label of] ’the arts’ is why arts organisations in this country over-serve the economically most advantaged in this country,” he claimed.

Speaking to The Stage after the event, Jubb admitted Battersea Arts Centre was just as guilty as other arts organisations when it came to creating barriers to access.

He said: “I was pointing that criticism at ourselves [as well]. Everything I was saying is very much pointed at what we have done here, and I think we have created barriers.”

Suggesting a fix for the exclusivity problem, Jubb added: “I think our first move is to get out more, to work with people on their terms, in their territory, to bring together our understanding of creative process, and encourage people to find their inner creative. I am a passionate believer that we are all creative.”

Plans for the Grand Hall’s rebuild were unveiled at the event: the centre’s largest space will be reconstructed with better soundproofing, lighting facilities and acoustics.

The centre will also open a number of new affordable workspaces beneath the Grand Hall, which early-stage artists and creative companies will be able to rent cheaply, in exchange for providing weekly support to the centre’s programmes.

Among the other announcements, Jubb revealed the centre is programming a season titled Cash, Capitalism and Corporations which will run from February to March 2017. Further details of the season are yet to be announced.

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