The debate on “diversity” in the arts

Few days ago The Guardian published this article “The arts need diversity schemes“.

Speaking on this issue, I know my voice would be classified as part of the BME pool, yet I question: “Is there a need for diversity policies in the arts?”

If I get an advantage in my career because I am non-white, I won’t complain; but can’t you find fault in this statement already?

1. Because of my skin colour / race / ethnicity, I am lumped into the BME category. Typical of those who are non-BME’s. Just like how everyone from the continent of Africa is Africans (instead of Kenyans, Ugandans, Ghanaians…) and how every non-British black is a Nigerian. Just so typical. History repeating itself.

2. The worst comment in this article made about diversity was:

Certain ethnic, social and cultural groups have been historically oppressed and are, accordingly, less likely to tread down seemingly less stable career paths, such as the arts.

Does this problem exclusively exists amongst the BMEs? I am sure there are non-BME who still think that arts degrees are a waste.

3. I appreciate the good intention of policy-makers to increase accessibility to those who are from a background where pursuing the arts is considered resource-wasting. The main reason for this perception, I reckon, has a lot to do with money. If you don’t have money to pay the bills, of course you will spend more time on trying to figure out how to get money or save money; in this process, one will easily neglect the things which are important to humanity, and perhaps the arts is at the bottom of this list. So yes, it is good intention to wanting to remind people how arts can inspire our lives.

4. Deciding who are from this background, should not be judged only based on skin colour, so the term “BME” should not even exist. We need to invent another term for that.

5. It is entirely up to the benefactors, however, to decide if they want to have a career in the arts, or if they want to attend that festival, or if they rather watch that play in the theatre. If someone does not feel comfortable going to an arts event, stop thinking that he is missing out, because it is based on an assumption that that event is good, EVERYONE should go. No. Everyone has his/her own preference.

I don’t go to the ROH to watch a full-length Swan Lake simply because I do not enjoy as much as a contemporary dance performance. Don’t point a finger at me and say, “Oh, poor you, you’re Chinese. Let us try to have a scheme so you can come into ROH.” If you do, I can tell you how much time and money my parents and I spent on ballet classes, performances and clothes when I was younger.

So stop those evaluations about “we need to increase our BME audience percentage rate”. This has nothing to do with diversity (in the current debate, spells out “skin-colour”).

6. (I am a bit hesitant in posting this last point as my opinion because I am not a practising artist, but this is what Munira Mirza was arguing for) Fund the arts according to excellency, not who made it.

PS: “Judging the art” has its own issues.

.. Firstly, could an artwork be judged? Even Tyas and I had a long debate about it. But we both understand that the development of the arts industry meant that artworks have to be judged at some point, whether for funding purposes, or competitive purposes etc.

.. Secondly, if it really needs to be judged, at what sort of standard? From what I gathered from Professor Lopez y Royo’s article “Dance in the British South Asian Diaspora: Redefining Classicism“, what is good development in “South Asian Dance” is not necessarily the same as what is good development in contemporary dance.

Yes to diversity in the arts. No to segregative policies which over-protect certain groups of artists (after all, artists need the sense of urgency to strive).

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