Two weeks ago we published a statement acknowledging that the West Midlands region’s arts and cultural sector has a long way to go, to make organisations truly reflective of our communities; in leadership, in governance, programming and audiences.
We promised to take the time to listen, hear, educate ourselves, and take action to create sustainable change in our systems and our organisations, and practically support Black artists and communities in our region.
Real change doesn’t happen overnight, but we are committed to our promise, and wanted to give an update on what has happened so far, as well as our plans for future work.
Freedom Fund for Black Artists
In the very short term, we are asking organisations and individuals to contribute to a Freedom Fund for Black Artists in the West Midlands. The fund will be used to respond to Black Artists’ individual self-identified immediate needs. MAIA, an artist-led cultural organisation; a platform for creative practice, critical thinking and social change, will use their expertise to manage and distribute the funds.
We are committed to supporting and facilitating long term change with regards to diversity and inclusion in the cultural sector, and recognise that this is the first step in a journey of institutional and individual change.
By donating to this fund, organisations are indicating a commitment to this change, and understanding that this is not absolution for the continued action we need to take, to ensure that the sector is representative of the communities and audiences in the region.
We will promote this fund during this Saturday’s Midsummer Festival, asking audiences to make a donation in lieu of a ticket to this free event.
Radically Listening Research
We are listening to Black artists about the challenges faced when working in the sector. We are hugely grateful to Theatre-maker and Producer Elizabeth Lawal who has created and circulated a form for artists to share experiences anonymously, and who will share the findings from this research to inform our future actions.
If you would like to write about your experiences you can fill in the form here, and please share the form widely to reach as many people as possible. We recognise that there is significant emotional labour involved in reliving your experiences in this way, particularly during this period of deep trauma, and we are truly grateful to everyone who feels able to do so.
Taking Accountability & Creating Action
Using this research as a starting point, we are formulating a series of sessions during July, where Black artists will have the opportunity, if they wish, to speak directly to, and have their voices heard by, leaders in the sector. The goal of these sessions is ultimately to inform our longer-term aim that diversity and inclusion, with a particular focus on sustainable actions to improve the progress of Black people as employees, artists and audiences/participant is embedded in decision making.
After these listening sessions, we will take time to reflect and hold ourselves and the organisations we work for accountable, before coming back together to shape a pledge for the sector to take bold, concrete action – with accountability sitting with the leadership of organisations. This will include publicly available, specific targets, for governance, staff, commissioning and programming.
Holding Space & Lobbying
This is just the start. We plan to regularly facilitate and hold spaces to hear and amplify Black and diverse voices at executive and senior leadership level. We intend to lobby and offer up collective representation to funders and stakeholders about real systemic change, and to provide support for the sector to build confidence and resilience in making that change.