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How we are working to improve equality of access within the visual arts

by Clare Harris

We stand in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement, and against racism in any form.

In 2017, SCAN, Scottish Artists Union and Engage Scotland published the Visual Arts Manifesto which laid out the kind of visual art community our members would like to be part of. In it, we made the following statements:

‘We commit to openness in our discussion, and understanding, of the barriers that affect people working in the visual arts and those who do not participate’, and:

‘We pledge to take urgent action to create a visual arts sector that celebrates diversity and promotes equality of opportunity for all.’

In 2018, SCAN published the Scottish Contemporary Visual Art Demographics report by Samar Ziadat. The aim of the report was to summarise available data on the demographics of the Scottish visual art workforce and audiences. Ziadat wrote:

‘In Creative Scotland’s Understanding Diversity in the Arts Survey Summary Report (2017), half of visual Scottish arts workers in the minority ethnic or mixed groups stated their ethnicity was a barrier, with a quarter stating it is a significant or very significant barrier. Minority ethnic respondents also had a lower median income than average at £15,000.

‘Within the visual arts RFOs there were no minority ethnic employees in senior leadership roles and only seven permanent members of staff from minority ethnic backgrounds.’

One year later, as we considered the Brexit era’s Hostile Environment at our annual Summit, we were challenged to confront institutional racism within the arts head on. The challenge echoed those of previous Summit events, urging our community to face up to fundamental inequalities and consider our responsibilities for change.

It is now 2020. And as we said last week, there is a lot of work to do. The Black Lives Matters protests across the world have served as a reminder that a lot of this work – in so many areas of life – is unfinished, and in some cases has barely begun.

Some of that work is in making our own decisions around equalities and representation more transparent. And some of it is in working with the sector to confront and unpick structural inequality. Here are the key steps that we are taking now, as part of an ongoing process:

1. We will commission an update to the 2018 Scottish Contemporary Visual Art Demographics Report
2. We will publish our Equalities and Diversity Action Plan on our website, a live document of key actions that is built into our wider activity plan.
3. We are developing a series of online training events on equalities and diversity for the sector, which will be launched soon
4. We will shortly begin recruitment for new board members with a clear focus on diversity, looking at ways to support trustees who may not normally be able to give up time to commit to board meetings
5. We will focus our post-Covid recovery programme on equality of opportunity and access
6. We will continue to listen and build our work around the aims set out in the Visual Arts Manifesto, with a focus on open and collaborative learning

If you have any questions about this statement, or thoughts on our progress, please contact Clare Harris, [email protected]