Exploring inclusive histories in polarised times

Published: 13 September 2023 
Author: Holly Donagh 
Source: Igwatala (license: CC BY-SA 4.0)
Image: St Paul’s Cathedral has recently commissioned a Nigerian-born artist to produce a mixed-media artwork, ‘Still Standing’, that reinterprets an adjacent brass plaque commemorating a Royal Navy Admiral involved in the Benin Expeditions
Still Standing’ at St Paul’s Cathedral. Photo credit: Igwatala (license: CC BY-SA 4.0)

Holly Donagh, our Director, Strategic Learning, Insight and Influence, reflects on new research from British Future that aims to equip practitioners in the arts and culture sector to explore inclusive histories in these polarised times.

Inclusive Histories: Narrating our shared past in polarised times by Jake Puddle and Sunder Katwala of British Future compiles a set of insights and examples of good practice, to assist arts and culture stakeholders to undertake work on inclusive histories[1] in ways that successfully navigate polarised responses.

We funded this research, with the Art Fund and Esmée Fairbairn Foundation, because we could see that the increasingly febrile media environment could make organisations fearful of working in the context of identity and history.

We believe that the arts and culture sectors have a critical role to play in our national discussion about race, identity and belonging, and it is important we bolster and continue this work.

British Future have produced a thoughtful report aimed primarily at leaders and communications professionals in arts, culture and heritage sectors. It considers whether we are doing enough to really understand the breadth of audiences in this space, the effective means of understanding and communicating to different audiences as well as techniques for getting the most out of media opportunities and connecting with the wider public narrative.

The message is one of confidence; there is a huge (and to some extent, untapped) enthusiasm for connecting with stories of identity and belonging across many age groups, communities and places. Stepping into this debate – prepared and positive – will not only enable the growth of this wider connection but help resist the minority of voices that insist we are more divided than united, and play a key role in strengthening our hopeful national narrative.

[1] The report describes inclusive histories as the legacies of colonialism and transatlantic slavery, and the histories of minority groups previously hidden or not told.

Holly Donagh
Director, Strategic Learning, Insight and Influence