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4th July 2017 Bea Udeh

Why diversity? A simple question. #ADA

CLoSer: The Devil’s Violin and Burns Night Ceilidh. Wilton’s Music Hall. Wednesday 25 January 2017.
Image courtesy of © James Berry

Amy Wilke’s first blog as an ADA 2.0 Fellow, from Wilton’s Music Hall, spells out how she sees the value of all of the arts is the answer to a very simple question about diversity.


The simple answer is that art should be for everyone. Art enriches life. Personally, I’m kept going throughout the week with gigs and films and the weekend with galleries and more gigs – my life would simply be flat without it. If art should be a reflection of life, and give us new perspectives on life, we’re failing if we aren’t including everyone’s lived experiences in this.

Countless studies have shown the benefits of engagement in the arts: children who learn a musical instrument do better academically; those who act have better confidence; sculpture can help improve dyslexia; and exploring visual art helps people with autism to communicate.

Further to this, seeing people we can identify with portrayed in positive ways is crucial to our identity, self-belief and to position ourselves within society.

As noted by a participant in the Equality, Diversity and The Creative Case report, ‘We studied Carol Ann Duffy but we were never told she was gay. And the same with Oscar Wilde. If all students knew that sort of information they might think twice about what they are saying because they would realise that gay people did some really good stuff and it would portray them in a more positive light.’

As arts programmers and marketers etc., we need to be giving platforms to these positive role models and being vocal about their identities.

Currently, it seems the arts sector is failing to reach diverse audiences, with a notable difference in engagement between white audiences and BAME, as demonstrated in this graph from the Taking Part report:

Reasons for these differences vary, with parental attitudes, schools and economic deprivation all being key factors, we also can’t deny that the lack of diversity existing in the arts – both on stage and behind the scenes – is an influence. For audiences to engage with us, we need to engage with them and invite them to feed into our programming and communications.

Wilton’s Music Hall is nestled away in Tower Hamlets, one of the most diverse boroughs in London (more than two thirds of the population belong to minority ethnic groups), and one which is unusual in having a very large Bangladeshi community. The 2011 census showed that it makes up almost one third of the borough’s population – considerably larger than the proportion across London (3 per cent), and the largest in England.

One potential obstacle to reaching this audience, which I will explore, is religious factors. As noted in the Every Child report ‘The role of music in religion can create challenges in engaging parents as it is not part of the cultural life of certain stricter Muslims.’

In the Every Child report, ‘Interviewees commonly felt that understanding the social and cultural context for different ethnic groups was key to delivering inclusive artistic activity and programming’

Tower Hamlets is also the second most deprived London Borough, and this is known to be a big hindering factor in arts engagement, starting at childhood: ‘Children and young people from lower socio-economic groups are less likely to engage in formal activities or visit historic places. They are also less likely to use words like “drama” or “concerts”, or define “arts” and “culture” without direction or suggestion (A New Direction 2014).’

One of my aims throughout this project is to explore how we can better reach the local community and see our audiences reflect the demographic more through understanding and engaging with them.