Female theatre leaders including Equity president Maureen Beattie and ERA 50:50 co-founder Polly Kemp have accused Arts Council England of displaying a “serious disregard” for women in its new 10-year strategy.
In a letter to ACE chair Nicholas Serota, they claim the Arts Council’s strategy, published last month, fails to address the industry’s responsibility around tackling the “endemic inequality faced by women in the arts”, and that it “barely mentions women”.
Signatories also include Sphinx Theatre artistic director Sue Parrish, director Julia Pascal, Titilola Dawudu, co-founder of Black Womxn in Theatre, and Jennifer Tuckett, director of University Women in the Arts.
The letter is written on behalf of the December Group, a collective of women working in theatre, who met with Serota in 2018 during the Arts Council’s consultation period for its future strategy.
The meeting was hailed as a landmark step forward, at which those involved said Serota had assured them of ACE’s commitment to gender equality in the industry.
The group’s letter, sent to ACE on February 7, reads: “Before [the strategy] was launched, our group met with you and colleagues at the Arts Council to emphasise the endemic inequality faced by women in the arts.
“During these meetings ACE assured us that our objective to achieve 50/50 parity would be seriously considered as part of the strategy. However, the new ACE plan barely mentions women, with only brief references in the introduction and conclusion.”
It adds that the strategy made it clear that the issue of female parity had been ignored by the funding body, and claims ACE had “missed a vital opportunity” to help work towards gender equality.
The strategy, entitled Let’s Create, makes repeated references to a widespread and persistent lack of diversity in the industry. While challenges facing women are mentioned in Serota’s foreword, explicit points about gender equality do not feature in the main body of the document.
However, inclusivity and relevance is one of four main investment principles to which organisations in receipt of regular funding must show commitment. The strategy says companies and venues must ensure that their staff, audiences and work reflect their communities in terms of “protected characteristics (including disability, sex and race) and socio-economic background”.
Speaking to The Stage, Parrish stressed that the group recognised the need for policy to address marginalised groups including people from minority ethnic backgrounds and people with a disability within the arts, but said: “We just think that women should also be a priority.”
Parrish said she felt “misled” by the Arts Council following the meetings they had with Serota and other staff last year.
“All along we’ve been given assurances that our concerns were being taken very seriously and being addressed, and that is clearly absolutely not the case… I think they think that women’s progress will happen by osmosis, that it doesn’t need direct support, but all the research shows that is not the case,” she added.
The letter goes on to invite Serota to an event later that the group is hosting this month in London, at which it will discuss research into gender equality by organisations including Equity, Era 50:50 and Stage Directors UK. The Stage is a media partner of the event.
A statement from Arts Council England said in response: “It’s clear from the strategy that our investment principles will require all organisations that we invest in on a regular basis to address the issues of inclusivity and relevance.
“It matters hugely that the audiences, participants, artists, programmes, workforce including leadership and the governance of the cultural sector is representative of the population.
“This includes the position of women in the workforce and as creatives. Organisations will be expected to set targets on how they will improve the diversity of their organisation and we will hold them to account on the progress they make. More details on this will be in our delivery plan, published later this year.”
Dear Sir Nicholas,
We are writing to express our deep disappointment with Let’s Create, the recently published 10-year Arts Council strategy.
Before it was launched, our group met with you and colleagues at the Arts Council to emphasise the endemic inequality faced by women in the arts.
During these meetings ACE assured us that our objective to achieve 50/50 parity would be seriously considered as part of the strategy. However, the new ACE plan barely mentions women, with only brief references in the introduction and conclusion.
It was clear to us that if the issue of female parity was not enshrined in the Strategy, it would be ignored. ACE has missed this vital opportunity to set out a strategy to achieve 50/50 representation.
We are presenting our research and that of our colleagues in Equity, Era 50:50, SDUK, the Writers’ Guild, Black Womxn in Theatre, and University Women In The Arts, and discussing the ACE Strategy, on February 25 at Trafalgar Studio 2 at 1.30pm-5pm.
We would be delighted if you could join us and clarify what seems to us a serious disregard for female artists.
All very best wishes,
Sue Parrish, artistic director of Sphinx Theatre
Maureen Beattie, president, Equity
Polly Kemp, co-founder of Era 50: 50
Jennifer Tuckett, director of University Women in the Arts and academic
Titilola Dawudu, co-founder, Black Womxn in Theatre
Julia Pascal, the first female director at the National Theatre at the South Bank
Brigid Larmour, artistic director of Watford Palace Theatre
On behalf of the December Group