‘Toolkit’ Challenges the Art World’s Class Gap

‘Everyone you let in through the back door will disadvantage someone without those connections’, a new report argues

Participants in the Weston Jerwood Creative Bursaries, 2017-2019. Courtesy: Tim Dickeson

Participants in the Weston Jerwood Creative Bursaries, 2017-2019. Courtesy: Tim Dickeson

A new ‘toolkit’ published by Jerwood Arts and the Bridge Group aims to help organizations address the class gap in the cultural sector. The guide, titled ‘Socio-Economic Diversity and Inclusion in the Arts’, offers a strategic approach to aid the advancement of socio-economic diversity and equality.

The guide includes findings from the non-profit consultancy Bridge Group and draws on lessons learnt from the Weston Jerwood Creative Bursaries’s programme, demonstrating the class inequality in the sector. The report concludes that people from lower socio-economic backgrounds are underrepresented, and ‘progress more slowly’ once they are in. There is also a pay gap related to background, with working class people earning on average GBP£6,800 less per year than those from a more affluent background doing the same job.

Although the ‘working class’ represent 35% of the working population, the guide reports that the group represents just 13% of publishing, 18% of music, 12% of film and 21% of museums, galleries and libraries.

Socio-economic background should be recognized as a ‘protected characteristic, alongside markers such as gender, ethnicity, sexuality and disability’, the toolkit argues: ‘Without this protected status, social-economic background will remain an under-researched, under-funded, ‘hidden barrier’ in the arts.’

The guide puts forward five ways of tackling this form of class inequality which include: ‘measur[ing] socio-economic background and publish[ing] what you find’; ‘creat[ing] spaces for conversations about taste, talent and merit’; ‘creat[ing] a more inclusive organizational culture’; ceas[ing] unpaid or unadvertised internships, jobs and opportunities’; and ‘creat[ing] more inclusive recruitment processes.’

Practical advice on how to implement institutional change is also offered. The guide advises organizations to ask potential employees four questions related to their socio-economic background on their equal opportunities monitoring forms including, what type of school they attended, their eligibility for free school meals, their parental experience of higher education and their parental occupation when they were aged 14.

On the subject of unpaid internships, the report argues that: ‘Any form of unpaid or very low paid work favours those who can rely on other financial means.’ And advises ‘all positions over four weeks in length are paid.’ The report concludes that: ‘Everyone you let in through the back door will disadvantage someone without those connections. Even small actions have big consequences.’

Writing in the foreword to the report, Darren Henley, Chief Executive of Arts Council England said: ‘We want to make sure that the people who create artistic work and run cultural organisations are representative of the way that England looks and feels today – and the same is true for audiences too. Our investment in this new toolkit is a step in helping this to happen – but there is still much to do.’

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