The Arts Council of Wales has announced its support of Black Lives Matter. Our commitment stands firm. However, we must explain what this means and the actions that we’ll take to translate statements of intent into action that leads to change.
We must recognise the systemic and structural oppression of Black and other communities who have experienced racism. We recognise the pain and trauma that structural racism inflicts. We recognise the urgent need for anti-racist action, for structural and permanent change and for processes of truth and reconciliation. We openly acknowledge structural inequalities within our own organisation and across the arts sector in Wales.
Our 2018 strategy, “For the Benefit of All”, placed equalities in all their forms at the centre of everything we do. But two years on and little has changed. It’s abundantly clear that we didn’t go far enough and we must acknowledge that we’re failing to meet the mark.
We lack the knowledge and lived experience within our organisation to be leaders of change by ourselves. As a public body, we should be leading by example. However, before we can claim to do this, we must become more diverse as an institution, more transparent, accountable and informed. Only then will we be able to play a real role in helping to deepen a commitment to equality across the cultural sector of Wales. This is our priority, and not just in the short term.
If our culture is the reflection of who we are, then Black Lives Matter is telling us that we continue to ignore the fact that society is reinforcing discrimination and lack of equality. It really shouldn’t take a crisis to focus our attention on those whose rights and needs are being continually ignored. Whether through Black Lives Matter or the coalition of disabled people that is proclaiming We Shall Not Be Removed, we must pause, take note and learn.
We do not have lived experience of being racially discriminated against. The expertise of lived experience needs to be embedded in our policy and decision making. We need the help of Black artists and artists from other communities who have experienced racism, together with deaf and disabled people, if we’re to move forward with integrity and make better decisions.
We recognise the emotional impact of this work, and the immense pressure communities who experience racial discrimination are under. To these communities and individuals we want to say: “we are committed to your safety and wellbeing, we will not waste your time with talking shops, nor expect you to undertake unpaid labour. It is our obligation to make sure you are respected, valued and safe”.
The process through which we achieve this won’t be easy.
We’re likely to make mistakes. When this happens, we’ll be honest and accepting of our shortcomings. We’ll learn from mistakes and stay committed to this path.
Members of the Arts Council of Wales are taking part in public conversations and forums, and we’re proposing an initial set of actions. It’s our intention that these will be added to and developed further in collaboration with voices of lived experience.
- To establish within a matter of weeks a series of conversations between Council and artists from Black and other minority ethnic backgrounds, as well as our many disadvantaged communities to share their experiences of living and working in Wales (ensuring that these voices are at the forefront of short-term and long-term actions for change).
- To schedule a conference to provide a public platform for these important discussions, for truth and for reconciliation
- To work with communities in all parts of Wales to develop and publish a Covid-19 recovery plan that has equalities at its heart and which requires our Arts Portfolio Wales (APW) organisations to do the same
- To revise our National Lottery applications and assessment criteria to ensure that our funding reaches further into all the communities of Wales
- To create a new staff post to act as an “Agent for Change”. This will be a senior role at the Arts Council with a mandate to drive change within our organisation
- To support APW organisations to diversify their governance, workforce and programmes of activity, placing greater emphasis on inclusion. We will hold institutions accountable as part of future Investment Reviews of organisational funding
- To upgrade our advisory Equalities Monitoring Subcommittee to a full Committee of the Arts Council, ensuring that Council itself better reflects the lived experience needed to represent 21st century Wales
- To learn from the success of our recent Covid-19 emergency response funds, which achieved greater and more diverse reach than any of our previous programmes, to ensure this becomes the norm
- To take part in continuous processes of dialogue and learning, challenging ourselves and our institutional culture
- Making these processes transparent, inclusive and led by voices with lived experience
Covid-19 has presented the sector with huge challenges.
The pandemic has also greatly magnified inequalities in Wales. Affected communities have always known and protested these inequalities, and we apologise unreservedly that it has taken a pandemic, the global Black Lives Matter movement and We Shall Not Be Removed for us to truly take heed. We’re more resolved than ever to listen, and to act.
A healthy, fair and resilient arts sector is one that is anti-racist and builds on communities and trust. Anti-racism and a greater push for equality are part of a robust response to Covid-19. And as well as Black Lives Matter and We Shall Not Be Removed, we acknowledge Trans Lives Matter, LGBTQ+, Welsh speaking communities and all those communities across our nation suffering from inequality. No one should be left behind.
Wales is a nation that has suffered its own suppression and exploitation. It has also itself engaged in systems of oppression and exploitation. Now is a moment of opportunity for Wales to reaffirm its commitment to fighting oppression, inequality and injustice. As Wales emerges from ‘lockdown’, let’s aim to rebuild a fairer and more equal creative sector in Wales. Moving forward, let’s work to make Wales a true world-leader in matters of equality and inclusion. Let’s set a high standard for ourselves and for others.
This historical shift reflects our longing for a Wales that we’re yet to fully experience; a Wales that is both unapologetically diverse and grounded in its own rich linguistic and cultural heritage, which must be accessible to all. This is a Wales that is equal and listens to the voices of lived experiences. Let’s not aim to return to the stasis of a backward-looking ‘new normal’ but strive for something greater – and better.