The government’s Cultural Renewal Taskforce has been criticised for failing to achieve gender balance among its members, in an open letter signed by Equity president Maureen Beattie and Sphinx Theatre artistic director Sue Parrish.
Two thirds of the taskforce’s membership is male, and the open letter, addressed to culture secretary Oliver Dowden, asks what measures will be put in place to ensure gender equality in its discussions about how to rebuild culture and leisure in the wake of Covid-19.
It expresses concerns that "gender inequality will increase in straitened, risk-averse conditions".
Chaired by Dowden, the group comprises five other male members – Nicholas Serota, Edward Mellors, Neil Mendoza, Michael Grade and Mark Cornell – and features just three women – English National Ballet artistic director Tamara Rojo, footballer and broadcaster Alex Scott and Lastminute.com co-founder Martha Lane Fox.
Signatories of the letter include Beattie, Parrish, ERA (Equal Representation for Actresses) 50:50 co-founder Polly Kemp, Watford Palace Theatre artistic director Brigid Larmour, University Women in the Arts director and Sphinx Theatre literary director Jennifer Tuckett, writer, director and academic Julia Pascal and playwright and dramaturg Chloe Todd Fordham.
They have signed on behalf of the December Group, a collective set up to campaign for general equality in theatre.
The letter states that the group will be sending the taskforce a report on new research Tuckett has conducted looking at how Australia has improved gender equality in theatre and how the same methods can be implemented in the UK.
It adds: "We are writing to flag up this issue now as we notice that your taskforce has only three women out of the nine task force members (33%).
"Our research from Australia has shown that a gender-equal team is more likely to consider all genders’ needs.
"We also notice that 0% of the leadership is female, as both yourself, as chair of the taskforce, and the newly appointed commissioner for cultural recovery and renewal are male.
"For all these reasons, we ask that you use a ‘gender lens’ to make and review all your decisions."
A DCMS spokesman said: “We are completely committed to ensuring a diverse and inclusive cultural sector and have been speaking with women from a broad range of cultural organisations, as well as freelancers and self-employed workers to help understand the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on the industry.
“The Cultural Renewal Taskforce, supported by the Entertainment and Events Working Group, brings together representatives from theatres, performing arts and other creative organisations as well as medical advisors to develop advice and guidance on re-openings in line with phasing ambitions and public health directions."
Dear Oliver Dowden,
Over the last two months, we have been looking at the question of how to rebuild the arts post-coronavirus, from the perspective of women’s equality. Our concern is that gender inequality will increase in straitened, risk-averse conditions.
Our research shows that one reason less work by women is programmed is that women are sometimes viewed (incorrectly) as more of a box-office risk. This aligns with evidence in Sphinx Theatre’s year-long research project on Women in Theatre, conducted with Jennifer Tuckett at the University of Cambridge last year, including quotes from NPO artistic directors:
“There isn’t enough money to make exciting commissions happen and there is pressure on the bottom line to deliver sure-fire winners, which often means extant texts, which often means male written."
“I would say that managing risk is a challenge for every theatre. There are things that I know in the wider sphere wouldn’t be a risk, but here they would be. And that often is to do with contemporary new work that’s not necessarily of a known quality."
“The challenge is we need a play that’s recognisable, that we can get an audience in with... and the repertoire’s dominated by men. So it’s how you change that."
We will be sending you the report of our recent research, and from the major Women in Theatre Forum (partners including the Writers’ Guild of Great Britain, Equity, ERA 50:50, University Women in the Arts, Sphinx Theatre, Black Womxn in Theatre, Stage Directors UK).
We are writing to flag up this issue now, however, as we notice that your taskforce has only three women out of the nine task force members (33%). Our research from Australia has shown that a gender-equal team is more likely to consider all genders’ needs.
We also notice that 0% of the leadership is female, as both yourself, as chair of the taskforce, and the newly appointed commissioner for cultural recovery and renewal are male.
For all these reasons, we ask that you use a ‘gender lens’ to make and review all your decisions.
We will be sending you our report within the next few weeks. We ask you and your taskforce to reflect, and act, on its findings, as you consider how best to rebuild the arts post-coronavirus.
We hope you will let us know what measures will be put in place to ensure gender equality.
Maureen Beattie OBE, president of Equity
Sue Parrish, artistic director, Sphinx Theatre
Polly Kemp, co-founder, ERA 50:50
Brigid Larmour, artistic director, Watford Palace Theatre
Jennifer Tuckett, director, University Women in the Arts
Julia Pascal, writer, director and academic
Chloe Todd Fordham, playwright and dramaturg