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Theatres ‘treading water’ on diversity – Arts Council England

Nicholas Serota. Photo: Hugh Glendinning Nicholas Serota, chair of Arts Council England. Photo: Hugh Glendinning
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Theatres need to speed up their efforts on improving diversity in their workforces, Arts Council England’s latest assessment of the industry has claimed.

The funding body has said that, despite gradual improvements, the arts workforce in England is still not representative enough, particularly in terms of ethnicity and disability.

In its fourth annual diversity report – the last to analyse the 2015-2018 national portfolio – ACE said there had been slow progress improving black, Asian and minority ethnic representation, with small shifts in most areas.

However, it said there had been “little discernible change” around disability, echoing concerns from previous reports that this is an area in which the sector is failing to progress.

‘Major companies still failing disabled’ – Arts Council report

For example, the total number of workers with a disability at national portfolio organisations increased by just one percentage point, to 5%, across the three years of the portfolio. This is compared to a figure of 20% in the working-age population.

This contrasts with more encouraging figures for gender representation: the proportion of female artistic directors rose from 28% to 46% during the three years of the portfolio.

Arts Council chair Nicholas Serota said: “In some respects there are improvements; in others we are still treading water. In all areas, we intend to do more,” explaining that from next year, the reporting will be more detailed and results will be broken down by funding level and discipline.

Serota added: “We recognise the scale of change we want to achieve will take time, but we would like to see the pace of change accelerate so that both the sector and the Arts Council better reflect the diversity of the local communities we serve up and down the country.”

The report analyses data from the 663 organisations in ACE’s national portfolio, covering 2017/18, except for data on individual organisations, which is taken from 2016/17.

It also found that:

  • 16 of the largest NPOs and major partner museums – with more than 50 staff – registered having no disabled staff at all in 2016/17. However, some of these organisations did not return any data
  • 10 of the largest organisations reported only 1% of staff members as being disabled, including the New Vic Theatre in Newcastle-under-Lyme, Theatre Royal Plymouth and the Roundhouse
  • There was a small increase in the total representation of people from BAME backgrounds, which increased from 11% in 2015/16 to 12% in 2017/18.
  • BAME representation on boards increased from 12% to 15% over the same period, with the proportion of non-white artistic directors rising from 10% to 12%. By contrast, 16% of the working age population is from a BAME background.
  • The total number of women working in NPOs has decreased since 2015/16 (from 55% to 50%), but representation in senior roles has improved.
  • The number of female chief executives rose from 40% to 51%, and female artistic directors from 28% to 46%.
  • Female chairs made up 37%, increasing from 35%.

ACE said more organisations and individuals had agreed to share their data, but for some organisations and categories – primarily disability – there were still high levels of ‘unknown’ responses. For future reports, ACE will be seeking explanations from companies consistently returning these responses.

ACE said the new portfolio organisations – 2018-22 – included more diverse-led companies than ever before, but added: “We accept that there is much work to do before the organisations we fund reflect our diverse contemporary society.”

Andrew Miller: Disability can no longer exist at the bottom of the list of arts’ priorities

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