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Arts White Paper strong on access but weak on employment

24 March 2016

Culture minister Ed Vaizey pledged to put arts "at the heart of everyday life" and ensure everyone can access culture, "no matter what their background", and asserted that arts and heritage must not be for "just the privileged few when he launched The Culture White Paper, on 23 March, but there is a worrying silence from him on the importance of supporting sustainable careers in the arts.

 Equity welcomes the Government’s acknowledgement that that the arts contributes to economic growth and regeneration and must be made more accessible for underrepresented groups however aside from the expectation that larger cultural organisations will take on apprentices and promote diversity and inclusion in the workplace, there is little on how the Government will help to address diversity in the creative workforce. They “will examine the role of networks to make pathways into the cultural sectors easier for people from black and minority ethnic groups and for disabled people” but urgent action is also required, in our view, to address the opportunities available to LGBT people, women and those from underrepresented socioeconomic groups. We welcome the ambition to encourage diversity at board level in arts organisations however we believe the White Paper should have also stressed the importance of employment monitoring across the workforce as a means of collating robust data that can inform decision making in a range of areas including funding, portrayal and casting.

 While the document rightly puts widening access to the arts at its centre, there is a missed opportunity with regards to tackling the challenges faced by workers in the sector. There is no acknowledgement of the prevalence of no pay/low pay in some areas of the arts and the sections on local arts provision and arts in education are silent on the two big cuts in those areas, namely the exclusion of arts subjects from the curriculum through the new ebacc and the massive funding cut to local authorities which will limit their ability to participate in the White paper’s vision for ‘greater local partnerships… to develop the role of culture in place-making’.

 As Equity’s work organising in emerging fields within the arts, most notably the fringe, demonstrates – ensuring that performers are paid for the professional work that they do is the best way to build a career pathway. We are therefore troubled by the White paper’s suggestion that “Volunteering is a way for people of all ages and from all backgrounds and walks of life to get involved in cultural activities and support the work of cultural organisations”. We note that the Government will work with Arts Council England and others to encourage more volunteering opportunities in the cultural sectors and will be watching this closely.

The White Paper can be downloaded from:

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