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Role models Why allwhite isnt alright

A new research project involving the University of Leicester will explore the importance of Black, Asian, and Minority Ethnic (BAME) role models in developing a more diverse workforce.

"Where am I? An exploration of the need to see ourselves reflected in our arts role models and leaders" is an AHRC-funded Clore Leadership Programme project which will investigate the implications of under-representation on BAME workers’ career aspirations. The research is jointly undertaken by Clore Fellow Suzanne Gorman and the CAMEo Research Institute for Cultural and Media Economies at the University of Leicester.

Where am I?

Lead researcher Suzanne Gorman is Artistic Director of Maya Productions and Artistic Associate at Soho Theatre. Suzanne says that she has always been interested in the relationship between the society in which we live and the portrayal of that world in the arts. However, she believes that what we see on our stages and screens does not truly represent the varied peoples, stories, and voices that exist in the UK. Diverse role models, or the lack of them, on stage, backstage, in leadership positions, in the workforce in general, is one area that needs to be challenged. Role models inspire us and open doors to opportunities. They give us confidence." she said. Suzanne feels that the arts and cultural sector would be much richer if it found a way to really be diverse: "When I was growing up, there were not very many diverse role models for me to identify with and 20/30 years later, I'm not sure how much better it is."

CAMEo's role

Dr Doris Eikhof, Deputy Director of CAMEo Research Institute for Cultural and Media Economies, will be the academic supervisor on the project. Her role involves working with Suzanne on the research design, methods, and interpretation and dissemination of the findings.

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Dr Doris Eikhof will be the academic supervisor on the project.
Dr Eikhof says that 'Where am I?' is right at the heart of the work that CAMEo is doing in a variety of different ways: "It focuses on diversity in cultural work. Diversity – or rather, the absence of it – amongst cultural workers is a huge issue for CAMEo. Contrary to many other projects that state and bemoan the lack of diversity in the cultural industries though, 'Where am I?' takes a positive and proactive approach: it looks into what can be done to encourage more diversity in the cultural industries."

'Dominant, white, male, middle-class culture'

Social media campaigns such as #OscarSoWhite and #BritsSoWhite are already highlighting a growing public recognition that diversity within creative industries still needs to be addressed. According to the most recent UK census, at least 12.8% of the British population are non-white and the total number of people in the UK from BAME backgrounds rose by more than 2.5 million between 2001 and 2011. Despite this increase, the Creative Skillset Census revealed that the proportion of BAME people in the performing arts in the UK has been declining steadily over the past decade. In 2006, 7.4% of the creative workforce were Black, Asian, or Minority Ethnic. That figure dropped to 6.7% in 2009 and fell further to just 5.4% by 2012. The same report revealed that number of BAME people working in the UK TV industry dropped by more than 30.9% over the same six-year period. That figure in particular greatly disappointed Black British actor and comedian Sir Lenny Henry, who was awarded a knighthood for services to drama and charity in 2015.

British actor, writer and comedian Sir Lenny Henry in The Comedy of Errors in 2011. Credit: Johan Persson
British actor Lucian Msamati alongside British actor, writer and comedian Sir Lenny Henry in The Comedy of Errors in 2011. Credit: Johan Persson

Speaking to an audience at Goldsmith's in 2012, Sir Lenny described the lack of BAME representation in the industry as "appalling" and questioned the reliance of the role of training schemes as a vehicle to bring more BAME people into programming: “My concern is, that when the only solution offered to create significant and sustainable change is the introduction of training schemes. It inadvertently creates the perception, that the reason why BAME people are leaving the industry, the reason why our numbers are at their lowest in years, is because we're not good enough."

Suzanne believes that there aren't many BAME people in the industry for different reasons: "I think that the dominant white, male, middle-class culture in the arts and beyond creates an environment within which it can be difficult to break into and sustain a career if you do not come from that background."

Performing arts, cultural leadership and race

"Under-representation means that people feel that doors are closed to them; that their voices and stories don't matter, that they are not valued as bona fide members of British society." says Suzanne. "Under-representation also means that stereotypes dominate and so people are seen as a mass group with certain characteristics, rather than as individuals. For example, the portrayal of young black men as gangsters, criminals, drug dealers, or Muslims as would be terrorists or religious fanatics."

The project hopes to address three of the topics which Dr Eikhof believes are curiously under-researched in studies of diversity in the cultural industries: performing arts, cultural leadership and race. "'Where am I?' is a collaboration between a cultural practitioner and an academic. Such project set-ups are really useful for keeping research relevant to its immediate users, again something CAMEo is keen to ensure," said Dr Eikhof. 'Where am I?' will also take its findings to the community of cultural practitioners. "We will hold an after work event with academics and cultural practitioners in Leicester to discuss what we have found and how the findings can help improve diversity in the cultural industries...'Where am I?' focuses on ethnicity and race, a topic that is very important for Leicester as a multi-ethnic city and therefore for CAMEo as a Leicester-based research institute."

For more information about the project, click here: http://www2.le.ac.uk/research/institutes/cameo

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