Monday, 21 April 2008

Is our Diversity broad enough?

Well, last week was one of those where even a half hour to post something here didn't quite happen. Let alone to satisfactorily finish the piece I've been trying to write about types of participation. One of the things I did last week though was see the new version of Lee Hall's 'The Pitman Painters' at Newcastle's Live Theatre. (I took my new boss, Alan Davey, to give him a few hints for his new job.)

The play - which transfers to the National Theatre in London Village next month - is about The Ashington Group - miners who became the toast of the art world in the 1930's. If I could reproduce the script here to talk about 'diversity', I would. The Arts Debate findings and a number of other things recently, such as research about the number of women in senior positions suggest there are still equality issues which need addressing. But I also come back to the complex backgrounds of people rather than simply their gender, ethnicity or sexuality. Put bluntly, swapping middle-class public school-educated white men for middle-class public school-educated white women or middle-class public school-educated black people is only one step forward in an arts world where the number of people from other backgrounds is very small.

(This is not just about 'equality', for me, it is about the art work - when an artform embraces creativity from all backgrounds, it becomes richer and more vital, when it becomes narrow, it can atrophy and become sterile. Examples I'd cite might be the novel and theatre before the Angry Young Men, or English poetry before the generation that came through in the 1980s.)

Like all of Lee Hall's work there's a seam of sentiment in 'The Pitman Painters', but it is finely hewn. His foreword in the programme puts the case for inclusion and diversity powerfully, and with that same risk of sentimentality. I reproduce part of it here to stimulate some thought on whether our current approaches to diversity go far enough:

'The idea that art is somehow a commodity, that culture is something one consumes rather than takes part in, is, of course, a very modern notion.... Despite the advances in education and the blossoming of the welfare state, somehow we have failed to 'democratize' the riches of culture. That The Group managed to achieve so much unaided and unabetted should remind us that dumbing down is not a prerequisite of culture being more accessible. That is a lie perpetrated by those who want to sell us shit. Culture is something we share and we are all the poorer for anyone excluded from it.'

7 comments:

Alan Davey said...

Hi Mark, the boss here. Certainly took the hints for the new job, and thank you for taking me. I've been reflecting a bit on class, diversity and opportunity since seeing the play. The fact that middle class parents see the importance of cultural opportunity for their children and many children from working class backgrounds still do not see culture as being 'for them' means for me that we have a long way to go in terms of ensuring equality of opportunity to what culture can offer. I worry about how culture is perceived and whether - despite decades of initiatives - we haven't really lowered psychological and social barriers to access. As Lee Hall says, not by dumbing down, but by giving people the means to entry. Better not hog the blog. Cheers Alan

Mark Robinson said...

For a second I thought Bruce Springsteen had left me a comment...

There's something wrapped up in this about expectation and confidence abut one's place in the wider culture, and the role of family and community expectation in developing them. I guess you see this in the play, but also how community can pigeon hole people so they don't have that confidence. That happens too often today.

The other option is to develop what I suspect worked for me which is a combination of supportive bewilderment on the part of my parents and complete ignorance on my part that I wasn't supposed to be doing certain things, or expected to do well at them. Being academic definitely helped me overall too, I guess, but we can't all be that.

Reb said...

I am looking forward to getting into deeper discussion with you this blog Mark. I like that you have started it and it is on topics - cultural policy, practice and politics - close to my head and my heart! But for now, in this debate I would suggest that the issue is less middle class parents valuing culture and opening the pathways for their kids and working class parents not doing this and more that there are dominant ideas (white and middle class usualy...) about what culture is.

Mark Robinson said...

Good to hear from you Rebecca. I think that's true - what 'qualifies' as culture even if you blur or get rid of the high/low distinction is definitely part of the issue. It leads to some implicit assumptions about what culture can do, too.

Mark Robinson said...

Good to hear from you Rebecca. I think that's true - what 'qualifies' as culture even if you blur or get rid of the high/low distinction is definitely part of the issue. It leads to some implicit assumptions about what culture can do, too.

Mark Robinson said...

Good to hear from you Rebecca. I think that's true - what 'qualifies' as culture even if you blur or get rid of the high/low distinction is definitely part of the issue. It leads to some implicit assumptions about what culture can do, too.

Mark Robinson said...

Good to hear from you Rebecca. I think that's true - what 'qualifies' as culture even if you blur or get rid of the high/low distinction is definitely part of the issue. It leads to some implicit assumptions about what culture can do, too.