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Theatre leaders call on Government to protect progress on diversity in arts

More than 60 artistic directors have signed a letter to the Culture Secretary.

Kwame Kwei-Armah
Kwame Kwei-Armah

More than 60 ethnically diverse artistic directors of theatre companies and arts institutions have called on the Government to help ensure that progress made on diversity in the industry is not hampered by the coronavirus crisis.

In a letter to Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden, leaders including Kwame Kwei-Armah of the Young Vic, Cassa Pancho of Ballet Black, and Yamin Choudury of Hackney Empire said any taskforce assembled to discuss the future of the arts must include consultation from BAME leaders to ensure this commitment.

The letter says: “Throughout the last decade, British theatre has led the world with regard to the black, Asian and ethnic diversity on our stages.

“Many of those actors are now international names: John Boyega, Idris Elba, Gemma Chan, Dev Patel, Cynthia Erivo, Daniel Kaluuya, Benedict Wong, Cush Jumbo, Letitia Wright, the list goes on.

“Equally as exciting, the last few years have seen an explosion of world-leading black, Asian and ethnically diverse artists transforming major UK theatrical organisations, from touring, to off-West End, to pioneering regional theatres and cultural institutions.

“Our programming choices have demonstrated that inclusivity is a major contributor to our success.

“The Covid-19 crisis threatens all aspects of the theatrical ecology, but catalysed by the revelations of the racial disparity in the health crisis, this group of black, Asian and ethnically diverse artistic leaders call on the Government and the sector to ensure the progress we have collectively made does not fall by the wayside.

“We insist that ethnic diversity is protected and celebrated in policy going forwards and propose that any taskforce or group gathering to speak about the future of our industry seeks out consultation from black, Asian and ethnically diverse leaders to ensure this commitment.

“We are a great British success story, and will be essential to the arts returning at full strength and playing its part in our nation’s recovery.”

John Boyega movies
The letter hails the success of Star Wars actor John Boyega (Isabel Infantes/PA)

The letter comes as peers voiced fears over the “acute impact” the coronavirus crisis is having on performing arts.

The House of Lords Communications and Digital Select Committee has written to Mr Dowden to ask what more the Government will do to ease the economic impact of prolonged closures and boost support for underrepresented groups and arts education.

It said it is concerned that a prolonged pandemic may “emphasise” barriers to entering the performing arts for people from underrepresented groups and damage arts education provision, affecting “the educational and emotional recovery of children, young people, teachers, parents and carers”.

Lord Gilbert of Panteg, chairman of the committee, said in the letter: “The performing arts, museums and galleries and TV and film production all require groups of people in close proximity. At the same time, they largely require ‘in person’ attendance by workers and performers.

“Consequently, the creative industries will likely be one of the last sectors able to reopen fully.”

The letter asked the Government to consider extending its Self-Employment Income Support Scheme to include those with recent second jobs and those who have taken parental or adoption leave – as well as increasing the scheme’s cap and duration.

It also expressed concern that the new Cultural Renewal Taskforce, which is aimed at helping to get the recreation and leisure sector running again, may have “limited impact” without proper resources.

The letter added: “We would be grateful if you could outline what resources, in addition to existing Government support, the taskforce will have to enable the sector to thrive and any further steps the Government will take to mitigate the economic impact of prolonged closures and to enable the safe return of employees.”

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