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Navigating Difference: Cultural Diversity and Audience Development

May 24, 200724 May 2007

Diversity, immigration and the arts

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This British report, with contributions from 40 different people, highlights the case for greater diversity, the complexities of diversity, the current diversity of the U.K.’s cultural organizations, examples of how other sectors engage with diversity, and tips on how to achieve diversity. The report also provides sources of information about audiences and participants (demographic data, publications, websites and other sources) as well as sources of information about artists and companies.

The report begins with the definition of cultural diversity from the UNESCO Universal Declaration on Cultural Diversity: “the uniqueness and plurality of the identities of the groups and societies making up humankind”.

Five prevalent themes from the discussions are:

  • how an imbalance of power is at the root of inequality in the cultural sector and beyond;
  • the complexities of representation;
  • the importance of language;
  • the impact that the internal dynamics of an organization can have on its audience development; and
  • how diversity can lead to creativity and innovation.

The report highlights five key ideas in the case for greater diversity. First, diversity can spark creative innovation. Second, “we still don’t have enough art that reflects the society we live in because we focus on over-specific, sectional interests when we create, fund and market the arts.” Third, cultural organizations need to stay relevant to avoid redundancy. Fourth, culturally diverse customers represent important untapped markets. In the end, diversity can have an impact on the “bottom line”. Finally, the law prohibits discrimination on the grounds of race, colour, nationality or ethnic or national origin in the provision of goods, facilities and services.

The main points regarding the complexities of diversity are:

  • Outdated philosophies of multiculturalism are at the root of many of the ways in which the cultural sector works.
  • We should abandon conventions and stereotypes in favour of an intercultural space that both reflects and transcends minority and majority cultural identities.
  • We should ensure that cultural policies respond not to multiculturalism but to local diversity and changing needs. Policies should be created in the context of broad local development priorities.
  • “Arts managers need to question the ‘common sense’ thinking behind their working practice and check the accuracy of their assumptions.”
  • “Achieving diversity requires change in organisational culture and managers with the skills to bring about that change and respond to the challenges of complexity.”

Regarding the diversity of the U.K.’s cultural organizations, the report indicates that the cultural sector has made progress but true equality is a long way off. Inequalities are linked to lack of access to resources. In addition, many diverse artists are nurtured through social or community arts projects run by mainstream organisations. This work is often devalued and under-resourced. Finally, many artists are successfully using new media to challenge standard narratives on race.

In terms of what cultural organizations can learn from other sectors, the report notes that “some cultural organisations already use many of the approaches seen in other sectors: a commitment to fundamental change; a combination of education, outreach and marketing; an in-depth knowledge of the lifestyles and needs of customers; endorsements, whether they are from cultural heroes or community leaders; using specialised communication channels and relevant images and copy in publicity material.” The report also highlights the fact that “effective communications are two-way and involve listening as well as talking.”

The report’s tips on how to achieve diversity include:

  • “Internal change is an essential precursor to developing more diverse audiences.” Internal changes include board, management, staff recruitment and retention, working models, as well as the ethos and atmosphere of the organization.
  • The individuality of artists and artworks should take precedence over their ethnic origin.
  • “Know your communities and develop an ongoing relationship with them through dialogue about programming and marketing.”
  • There is no single minority ethnic arts market or identities.
  • “There is no single blueprint that will be effective in every organisation. Different artists, organisations, communities and contexts will always need different solutions…. Cultural diversity can only come from a commitment to changing values throughout an organisation.”

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