Tuesday, 24 January 2017

Diversity in the Arts

On Friday, I attended an interesting conference at East Anglia University, concerning diversity. The question of how to create art for all was asked in many ways and by experts in their field, but the overwhelming feeling was to be welcoming and to make your art accessible for the audience. Within business, I am often asked 'who is your audience? I am advised to have a perfect customer in my head in order to market to that person. Who will buy my puppets or/and attend a workshop? I would love to say, 'anyone who will gain value by what we do', but is that enough? How can we make everyone feel welcome and know that the value is for them? How do we create that value?

I remember working with teenage girls where we were creating shadow puppets for a performance later in the day. It was a community festival and the theme was to explore culture through traditional stories. Interestingly, while we were making the puppets, the discussion was all about empowering women through story (linked to the performance) and we openly discussed the participants' own experience because our attention was on puppet making. The workshop became a place to express opinions and feelings that we wanted to share, where we could discuss actions and ideas to help other people and ourselves feel empowered within our communities. An element of this was brought into our story which we told with passion and a feeling of togetherness that wouldn't have happened without the discussion that preceded it.

We didn't start the day knowing that the process of creating story would lead to such a worthwhile and open discussion and the feeling that we all gained value through this shared experience. These girls taught me so much about their beliefs and where their feelings and views sat within this framework. Hopefully they felt I had something to contribute too. Is this art through diversity, or just people coming together and sharing something special? Is there a difference between the two? Respect, consideration and accessibility are surely starting points, with open dialogue and understanding coming a close second. Creating art that explores parts of us and our cultures, enrich our lives and remind us that we are not so different after all. I like the idea of having a universal audience where everyone is welcome - now that's something to aim for.