Beyond Access and Participation
Over the last year, the arts team at Paul Hamlyn Foundation have been working with our learning partners, people make it work, to look afresh at our funding. We’ve drawn on research on the state of the cultural sector and literature on how to drive structural change. We’ve consulted widely with different stakeholders within the sector and we’ve looked at our commitment to anti-racism to consider how it applies to our funding practices. We have also thought about the connections across PHF’s work in migration, youth and education and tried to learn from this wider view. These exercises have helped us arrive at a coherent narrative about why we do what we do, which we hope will give applicants more clarity and ultimately make us a more effective supporter of the cultural sector.
This blog outlines a vision for what a better, more regenerative and expansive cultural sector might look like, one that is part of a bigger story of justice and human creativity and not an end in itself. It is, predictably, the most aspirational and naïve part of this exercise, but we have seen that this resonated with many who took part in our consultation, and we believe that it is important that people know what we stand for. In future blogs, we’ll get more practical, looking at PHF’s position within the sector, the role we are best placed to play in supporting our vision and how our processes will be changing to support more effective change in the cultural sector. These aren’t necessary reading for anyone who wants to apply for funding, but they provide the context for the upcoming changes to our criteria and outline the role we see for PHF’s arts funding within the wider funding system.
A vision for the cultural sector
Our vision for the cultural sector begins with the Foundation’s wider vision for a just society in which everyone can realise their full potential and enjoy fulfilling and creative lives. What kind of cultural sector would support a just society, and what changes are needed to bring this cultural sector about?
To begin with, we looked at current trends in the cultural sector. From our analysis, a few themes emerged:
- We are more aware than ever of the need to embrace a plurality of voices and perspectives. The contraction of the sector throughout Covid-19 and the re-emergence of the Black Lives Matter movement revealed that despite the investment of time and resources into bringing more different people in, the same underlying structural inequalities remain, relating to race, class, disability, gender, sexuality and more. We are waking up to the historical and political underpinnings of this challenge now, sensitive to its connection to colonialism, patriarchy, migration and belonging in contemporary Britain, pushing us to understand and address structural inequalities of resources and power.
- We are seeing a period of transition for long-standing business models, shaped by a wide range of social, economic and cultural factors. Touring performing arts are under pressure from increased costs, changed audience behaviour post-Covid and from the shift towards more place-based, embedded and sustainable models of cultural production. We are collectively letting go of some artistic practices which we have held close and nurturing new ones to develop in their place.
- The collective voice of the workforce, independent of our institutions, wields tremendous influence in shaping the agenda of our sector, yet the livelihoods and wellbeing of cultural workers, especially artists and freelancers, are increasingly precarious. Workers are organising for better pay and development opportunities and advocating for trauma-informed and safe conditions within their workplaces, reimagining what leadership, organisational structures and values-led culture could look like. Harnessing the power of collectives, unions and other organising bodies will be vital in building more equity in the sector.
- The distinction between the instrumental uses of art and ‘art for art’s sake’ continues to shape the sector at organisational, funding and policy levels. This can play into long-standing concerns about demonstrating the unique value of arts and culture in a landscape of tightened budgets and increased demand on funding. People working in the sector worry that, in the desire to attract more funding, the unique contribution of art and culture to society is being diluted. Others see opportunities to increase income and take art and culture into more areas of our social life. Wherever your sympathies lie, it is symptomatic of a sector that often keeps artistic programming distinct from education, learning, participation, outreach and community work, reinforcing hierarchies in terms of who gets to enjoy art and culture on their own terms and who it is prescribed to.
Our consultation, along with other stakeholder engagement, suggested that there is a desire to make sense of these shifts and trends and work collectively to envision a sector which addresses them from the ground up. This needs time. Yet, the pressure to make up the ground lost since 2020 risks driving us back towards extractive and harmful behaviours, increasing burnout and reproducing unsustainable practices. We’ve noticed frustration that the glimpse of a generative, joyful and equitable sector may pass us by if we don’t pay closer attention to it.
So, what might that vision of the sector look like? We feel it would have the following characteristics:
- It would reflect the many different voices and cultures of the United Kingdom, recognising the rich and evolving nature of our shared and individual cultural identities.
- All people and communities would participate in and enjoy a rich cultural life on their own terms, recognising that freedom of expression is a pillar of a just society.
- Power and leadership would be equitably shared across everyone working in culture, breaking down organisational hierarchies, structural hierarchies, and art form and genre hierarchies (high art vs. low art or classical vs. folk traditions).
- Artists would be front and centre in shaping our culture, which is fluid and responsive to artist and community needs and expression.
- It would embrace a more complex narrative about the value of art and culture and its role in society, working alongside funders and policy-makers to ensure it remains a space for experimentation and openness and for practicing the values of a just society.
Consistent across these characteristics is a desire to think about the less visible systems and behaviours which create inequalities in our culture. This moves us away from thinking about diversity and access as issues of representation or participation and closer to the root causes of inequality. It also embraces a more holistic and pluralistic notion of cultural value, recognising the limits of tying artistic practice to social outcomes without denying the social benefits that artists generate. It requires us as funders to look at our previous assumptions about how inequality is addressed and how we support artists and cultural organisations to realise their full potential for themselves and their communities.
This is the vision we are committed to, and it means that we will take the following actions:
- Support more organisations led by and serving artists and freelance workers
- Pay attention to working conditions for all working in the sector, especially artists and freelance workers
- Fund more organisations working at the intersections of art, activism and social change
- Work alongside organisations working at slower and deeper levels of the cultural sector to shift our structures, systems and behaviours
- Take an intersectional approach to inequality, supporting artists and organisations most impacted by racism, ableism, classism, sexism, xenophobia, homophobia and transphobia
This vision for change was developed in consultation with organisations we have recently supported, organisations we have recently declined, those we have had a long-standing relationship with and those we have had no relationship with. Our next steps for making these changes will be outlined in future blogs, setting out how we will use our resources, what position we hold and how our processes will be adapted.
We feel confident enough that it is the right direction, but it will remain alive and open to change as we learn more in the years ahead.
- This Work Isn’t For Us, by Jemma Desai
- Freelance Futures – in particular Reimagining Governance and Human Rights vs Human Resources
- Rethinking diversity in publishing – Goldsmiths Press and Goldsmiths, University of London, Spread the Word and The Bookseller
- It’s About Handing Over Power – report on curatorial diversity by Art Fund, Museum X and Culture&
- Research from Black Lives in Music
- Race Between the Lines: Actors Experience of Race and Racism in Britain’s Audition and Casting Process and On Set – Dr Jami Rogers, The Lenny Henry Centre for Media Diversity
- Structurally F*cked an inquiry into artists’ pay and conditions in the public sector in response to the Artist Leaks data – Industria
- Panic! Social Class, Taste and Inequality in the Creative Industries – Dr Orian Brook, Dr David O’Brien, and Dr Mark Taylor
- Back to the Future: Why We Need to Return to Future Thinking Post-Pandemic – Morvern Cunningham buy it here
- The impact of Covid-19 and BLM on Black, Asian and ethnically diverse creatives and cultural workers – Centre on the Dynamics of Ethnicity (CoDE) and Creative Access
- Culture in Crisis: impacts of Covid-19 on the UK cultural sector and where we go from here – Ben Walmsley, Abigail Gilmore, Dave O’Brien, Anne Torreggiani
- Research digest: The role of the artist in society – John Wright, The Centre for Cultural Value
- An honest reflection on the inevitably slow and uncomfortable journey towards equity in a community organisation – Josephine Reichert, co-founder of Ort Gallery in Birmingham
- (Beyond) EDI – Atlas Arts
- Culture as Strategy in Apocalyptic Times and Towards a Life-Affirming Cultural Sector by MAIA