Arts Council England

Three pioneering diversity research projects around staff and consumer inclusion in UK arts and culture

Arts Council England (ACE) was founded in 1946 and has been England’s national development agency for arts, creativity, and culture ever since. Their mission is to create more opportunity for people to benefit from art and culture. ACE has significantly matured its diversity and inclusion journey since they first approached us. Our close partnership with them has seen us undertake various diversity projects to further open up the work that Arts Council England does for more people and diverse groups. In this case study, we showcase three of these projects: engaging with diverse young persons; identifying barriers and opportunities for disabled employees; and creating a Culture Change Toolkit.

1. Investigating how children and young people engage with the arts

Arts Council England first commissioned us to report on the different experiences of the arts for younger groups, together with recommendations for equality action-planning.

Following a period of desk research in which we synthesised available research data from ACE and elsewhere, we conducted semi-structured telephone interviews with 23 individuals involved in arts and culture with, for or by children and young people. These were structured around themes emerging from the initial review period, including potential barriers to – and enablers of – engagement by diverse children and young people.

Our approach cut across all nine protected characteristics, but also factored in socio-economic status and educational attainment. This allowed us to identify:

  • Patterns of cultural difference
  • Barriers to engagement
  • Specific gaps in current ACE provision.

We were also careful to take into account the impact of changing governmental policy, of digital and social media, and the importance of location and parental support on how these groups interact with various art-forms.

Our final report – ‘Every child: equality and diversity in arts and culture with, by and for children and young people’ – was published on the ACE website, along with an equality and diversity infographic and action plan. The resulting findings and recommendations were used internally to develop strategy and to inform policy.

We also provided recommendations for improved diversity data collection and monitoring, plus guidance on programming, funding and strategic leadership. Our recommendations were featured in an article in ArtsProfessional magazine – ‘Arts Council must “radically improve” young person diversity monitoring’.

“Working with EW Group on this report meant I was able to bring my own specialism in arts and culture to a team of people with different skills to explore the topic in a way that added real value for the client, and ultimately will prove useful to the arts sector and to young people. The research and interview process was richer for our own diversity, as was, I hope, the final report. I was really pleased it led to a concrete Action Plan being developed by Arts Council England.”

Mark Robinson, EW Group Co-Lead Consultant

2. Identifying trends, barriers and opportunities for disabled people working in the sector

Arts Council England called on EW Group to look into sector workforce development as it relates to disabilities. In 2016, the level of disabled representation within the arts and culture workforce was as low as 4%. The aim of the research was to improve understanding within the organisation of disabled people’s experiences and perceptions of the arts and culture workforce. ACE also wanted to identify any barriers to entry and progression, and gauge what can be done about them.

Our diversity research team was led by Imogen Blood and Mark Robinson, and supported by Geoff Adams-Spink and Dr Tom Shakespeare.

Our fieldwork brought together a range of audiences for face-to-face and online consultations, including:

  • Disabled employees across the sector
  • Disability champions from ACE NPOs
  • Disabled young people pre-employment
  • Disabled candidates who have been unsuccessful in job applications
  • NPO HR Directors, Learning and Development leads, and Chief Executives.

The centrepiece of the data gathering was a full-day Open Space workshop. This provided best practice examples of talent attraction, recruitment and retention, as well as recommendations for future diversity strategy.

Our final research report, ‘Making a Shift’, includes sets of recommendations for short-, medium- and long-term action planning, clustered under the following themes:

  • Awareness and Understanding – increasing understanding and awareness of the creative achievements and potential of disabled people, and of their access needs.
  • Entry and Progression – creating a more supportive environment for disabled people to progress in the arts and culture workforce by making a shift in how the sector works.
  • Support and Shift – making it possible for more disabled people to have productive and varied careers in arts and culture.

3. Producing a Practical Guide to Culture Change for Arts and Culture Organisations

Our latest project for Arts Council England was the design and production of a Culture Change Toolkit: a good practice guide to diversity, culture change and people management to be made available to the whole arts and culture sector. ACE wanted a practical and stimulating guide to employing and supporting diverse talent, from entry- to board-level.

We created this guide in close consultation with representatives from across the sector. These included existing staff and artists from music, theatre and visual arts organisations of various sizes, and across various strands of diversity. We wanted to get a clear sense of what the sector needed most, and what would be most practical for its employers, employees and other key stakeholders.

The guide to culture change was built around the following key sections:

  • How to find and grow diverse talent
  • How to recruit diverse talent
  • How to support diverse people
  • How to develop diverse leadership
  • How to create diverse boards
  • How to collect and use diversity data.

Each section was supported by a set of case studies, reflecting real-life, sector-specific examples of good practice in the relevant area. These were reinforced by signposts to available resources, as well as our own downloadable tools, including templates, checklists and other forms of go-to top tips.

The final Culture Change Toolkit was published and made available to an array of user organisations, sector leaders and recruitment heads.

As part of the Culture Change Toolkit, we also provided a list of recommendations for effective actions on the themes of:

“This research project needed a dynamic partnership between consultants with a range of expertise: from arts and heritage, qualitative field research, and diversity and inclusion. So as a team we put our heads together and pooled our resources and respective strengths. Our blended approach enabled us to get sight of the most relevant information, and to develop a highly practical tool for ACE. It also allowed us to speak to a wide range of smaller and larger arts-based businesses across the cultural sector. From the outset ACE were clear about how they wanted the tools to look, and we carried their brief right through to the layout and interactive nature of the final guides.”

Yvonne Howard, Co-Lead Consultant

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