Fund launched to boost leadership diversity in the arts

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Arts Council England has announced funding for leadership programmes but more support is needed to help underrepresented groups reach board level

Arts Council England has today (29 August) announced that it is investing £1.7 million into a fund to develop leadership opportunities for staff of museums, libraries and arts organisations.

Eighteen programmes have been selected for funding including LeaD, aimed at those with learning disabilities; the Jerwood Transforming Leadership Programme, aimed at promoting emerging leaders from lower socio-economic backgrounds; and The Coventry City Culture Trust, a training programme to develop leaders to represent the city.

Research in February from Arts Council England found that just 16% of the workforce in arts bodies are from BAME backgrounds and just 5% have a disability.

Jane Tarr, director of skills and workforces at Arts Council England, said arts organisations' boards often lack leaders with different backgrounds and experiences.

“Often these boards will not be particularly diverse, and that can have a direct impact on the work we produce and on building a pipeline of talent. We need to have people who reflect the communities in which they are working to offer a broad range of different experiences,” she told HR magazine.

“There are all sort of reasons for this: some people might not have access to cultural institutions to have early experiences of arts and culture, sometimes there’s a lack of funding, and sometimes it can be difficult for people to apply if they don’t have role models to look up to.”

There is, however, good work going on within arts organisations' HR teams, said Tarr: “We’ve noticed that the HR directors in some of the larger arts organisations we’ve worked with have made a real difference in championing issues around diversity and inclusion, and really encouraging our leaders to take more risks."

She entreated these HR practitioners to now share more widely what they'd achieved: "The arts and culture sector is huge in the UK but it’s mostly made up of a lot of smaller companies, so it would be great to see those people in HR sharing what they’ve learnt and achieved.”

HR leaders can have an especially positive impact in the arts if they have a seat on the board, Tarr added: “This has been particularly true of HR on boards for the arts. Having people who understand apprenticeships, who understand talent, and who understand the barriers young people are facing to reach those top positions can make such a difference. From what I’ve seen HR is really coming to the fore.”

The UK arts and culture sector has faced severe cuts in recent years. Public spending on recreation and culture fell by £1 billion from 2010 to 2018, with a further £345 million in EU funding for arts and culture at risk after Brexit.

Despite these challenges Tarr urged employers to stay focused on improving progression opportunities for those from underrepresented backgrounds: “There’s an appetite for change, but everyone knows there’s no quick fix for this. Employers can make a real difference in setting the culture and making sure their workplaces can offer a place for everyone.”

Further reading

HR takes centre stage at the Royal Shakespeare Company

Case study: Responding to sexual abuse allegations at The Old Vic

DreamWorks Pictures HR boss talks about keeping a creative workforce constantly inspired

Bringing the past to life at York Museums Trust

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