Diversity and the National Portfolio

Posted By Arts Council England on 30 June 2017

We’re committed to ensuring publically funded arts and culture in England reflects the diversity of our country. This is shown in the work we invest in, the audiences that come to see the work and the workforce and leadership across the sector.

A group of circus performers look to camera
Extraordinary Bodies, a partnership between Cirque Bijou and Diverse City

Why is diversity important?

Diversity is vital to achieving artistic excellence, driving innovation and creating new collaborations. Through embracing diverse influences and practices, artists and organisations can create exciting, new, high quality work to inspire and connect with a wide range of people.

The arts are also an essential platform to amplify the voices of communities whose stories have historically been under-represented across the sector.

How does the Arts Council encourage diversity?

As the main funder of arts and culture in England, it’s important that we lead by example and actively promote diversity in the work that we invest in.

We asked all National Portfolio applicants to evidence how they would contribute to the Creative Case for Diversity through their work. The new portfolio showcases some of the best artistic practice, with organisations producing a diverse range of excellent work that represents many different kinds of people.

A man wearing a crown of twigs speaks to a blindfolded man
King Lear by Talawa and Royal Exchange Theatre, in association with Birmingham Repertory Theatre. Photo © Jonathan Keenan

We collect and report on the diversity of leadership in the National Portfolio – this records where organisations are Black and minority ethnic led, disability led, LGBT led and/or female led. We also require all National Portfolio Organisations to have in place an Equality Action Plan. We recently commissioned new guidance on creating and implementing these plans from the Stephen Lawrence Trust.

 We believe we’ve made a good start, but recognise there is more to be done before arts and culture in England truly reflects the diversity of society.

How diverse is the new portfolio?

When we analysed our previous National Portfolio (2015-18), we recognised the low number of new applications we received from BME and disability led organisations. To address this we launched the Elevate programme, which funded 40 diverse organisations to both develop their resilience and realise their artistic ambitions.

There are 96 organisations in the 2018-22 National Portfolio that self-define as BME led, and 35 organisations that self-define as disability led. This includes 20 organisations that received investment through the Elevate programme.

Diverse led organisations joining the portfolio for the first time include: Ballet Black, a company of dancers of Black and Asian descent; Diverse City, who bring together disabled and non-disabled people, older and younger people and people from all backgrounds through an ambitious programme of performance and training; Shubbak Festival, which celebrates contemporary Arab culture; and Disability Arts Online, which works to create widespread appreciation for the richness and diversity of disability arts and culture.

A man in a wheelchair performs on stage in front of a small orchestra
The British Paraorchestra (a new portfolio member) and Extraordinary Bodies perform Terry Riley’s in C. Photo © Paul Blakemore

In the new portfolio, BME and disability led organisations were particularly successful in their applications for ‘uplifts’ (an increase in funding to expand their work). Across the whole portfolio the success rate was 8.4%; among organisations that self-define as either BME led or disability led, it was 12.5% and 22% respectively.

Diverse led organisations that were members of the last portfolio and have been offered uplifts in funding include: Talawa, which creates outstanding work by emerging and established Black theatre artists; the Tricycle, which presents innovative work that brings unheard voices into the mainstream; Mind the Gap, which works with learning-disabled artists to create exciting, surprising and challenging experiences; and Attitude is Everything, which improves Deaf and disabled people’s access to live music.

How will we tackle the remaining issues?

We recognise there are still challenges; in particular, we want to see greater diversity in leadership among organisations that receive over £1 million investment per year, as well as across the museums and libraries in the portfolio.

A man hands a woman a bunch of flowers
Bricks and Pieces by Tiata Fahodzi. Photo © Linda Carter

In 2016 we started to address this issue, by investing £2.6 million in our Change Makers programme to support the development of BME and disabled leaders. The talent is there, so we need to ensure the opportunity is too. Change of this scale will take time, but we’re committed to working with our National Portfolio organisations to diversify the leadership of the arts and cultural sector to ensure it is sustainable in the long term.

To meet this challenge and others, we’ve developed an Equality Action Plan (see page 33 of our Equality Analysis) which lays out the issues and how we intend to tackle them. It sets out actions to diversify leadership and improve the quality of the data we capture around diversity, including socio-economic background and mobility. We will also gather more detailed data on the profile of the audiences that our funded organisations are reaching to inform our decision-making in the future.

Find out more

Read about the Creative Case for Diversity >

Sign up for our newsletter >