Theatre leaders have welcomed Arts Council England’s new diversity drive, which has been hailed by some as an “imperative step forward in the fight for equality”.
Under a new strategy unveiled this week, organisations risk losing their entire ACE funding if they do not become more diverse.
As part of the new regulations, national portfolio organisations will be monitored on how well they reflect diversity – in all its forms. ACE said this would be “a way of holding them to account”, and from 2018 it will look at this diversity data when making decisions on whether to continue an organisation’s portfolio funding.
ACE chair Peter Bazalgette introduced the initiative this week, and explained: “We have to open up access to power and to resources. Looking up, too many see the white cliff face of the arts establishment and feel they just cannot climb it.”
Statistics released last week by Drama UK show that in 2013, 30% of musical theatre performers were non-white, while at the National Theatre 15% of performers were non-white. However, only 2% of the cast members at the NT were Asian, and just 1% of musical theatre performers were Asian.
Actor Danny Lee Wynter, who is behind diversity initiative Act For Change, welcomed ACE’s plan, telling The Stage that while the threat of funding cuts might seem draconian, the new strategy was a “massively important step”.
He said: “Awareness alone is not enough to win the battle, and diversity doesn’t happen as a result of goodwill. Publishing figures and asking organisations to account for their choices across the whole of the arts sector is an imperative step forward in the fight for equality, and one which should be applauded.”
Bristol Old Vic artistic director Tom Morris described Bazalgette’s speech as “inspiring”, but questioned whether ACE’s aims were achievable in the current climate, when theatres were “struggling for survival”.
He said: “The cuts in arts council and local authority funding that we’ve seen will actually remove the investment from the very area where this speech requires investment to be sustained and therefore it feels extremely optimistic to expect that arts organisations will be able to create the kind of change that he rightly asks them to make.”
Dawn Walton, the artistic director of the black-led Eclipse Theatre Company, said the new strategy would help increase the variety of black stories on stage. She added: “Once you stop monitoring, things slide backwards, and that’s been proven time and time again.”
BECTU diversity officer Janice Turner said: “Companies in receipt of public money should be obliged to reveal how well they are reflecting the public they claim to serve, and their funding should be contingent on progress.”
ACE’s monitoring of its NPOs on the diversity of their work and workforce will begin next year.