Five boys drumming

How Creative Case NORTH is transforming approaches to diversity

Posted on 07 April 2016

Diversity and equality are crucial to arts and culture. They sustain, refresh, replenish and release the true potential of England’s artistic and cultural talent, regardless of people’s background. These principals underpin the Arts Council’s approach to equality and diversity in our sector in what we call the Creative Case for Diversity.

In 2012, the Arts Council supported a sector led consortium of arts and cultural organisations who came together to form the Creative Case NORTH consortium. It now has membership from across the north and the steering group consists of ARC Stockton, BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art, Sustained Theatre Artists Yorkshire, Contemporary Visual Arts Network, Hallé Concert Society, Curious Minds, Opera North, ZENDEH, DaDaFest, Contact Theatre, Tim Wheeler, GemArts and ARTLINK Centre for Community Arts.

Supported by investment from the Arts Council, Creative Case NORTH has been finding ways to embed the creative case across the arts and cultural sector throughout the north of England. The north area approach is important because it spans a wide geography and supports a huge range of organisations and types of diversity, embracing all the protected characteristics. 

The idea was to enable sector led dialogue and focused work around diversity and the Creative Case. It also strived to embrace the spirit of the Creative Case - a position that moves away from a deficit model of diversity to a more positive approach of putting arts and culture at the heart of understanding why diversity is important. The aim was to increase this understanding and to engage the sector to work in partnership with the Arts Council to stimulate initiatives that help diversify the arts and culture itself and those that deliver it, in turn being more representative of 21st Century Britain.

From where we stand today and looking over the horizon, it is clear that the Creative Case for Diversity and Equality is the philosophical and practical approach for the on-going development and resilience of 21st Century Britain's Arts, Heritage, and Culture. There are four key areas of Creative Case NORTH's work that engages with the whole cultural landscape: and they are our shared championing of aspirations, actions, accountability, and access. Each of those areas celebrates traditions, and when considered together support the  creation of vibrant the conditions for innovative and transformational ideas. Nazli Tabatabai-Khatambakhsh, Artistic Director (CEO) ZENDEH, Facilitator and Founding Member of Creative Case NORTH


In its first year, activity took place in Yorkshire, North East and the North West and included events, artist provocations, workshops and open space discussions.

In 2013/14 two north area events were held to enable the sharing of best practice and to develop networks and four funded residencies. This work engaged 93 people including representation from 65 National Portfolio Organisations (NPOs) and three Major Partner Museums (MPMs) based in the north.

In 2014/15 two further events were held at The Lowry in Salford and York Museums as well as a series of dialogues between organisations. Six commissions were given for explorations and residencies, including the Ilkley Literature Festival in partnership with Leeds Art Gallery, and artist Rommi Smith and Kala Sangham in partnership with York Theatre Royal. This work engaged 137 individuals from 65 north NPOs, five MPMs and three Bridge organisations 

In October 2014 Rachel Feldberg, the Director of Ilkley Literature Festival, attended a seminar at the Henry Moore Gallery where writer Rommi Smith and actor/academic Damien O’Keefe gave a compelling reading of TS Eliot’s The Waste Land. Rachel, Rommi and Leeds Art Gallery Curator Nigel Walsh discussed who else might have offered rich insights in terms of diversity. They also reflected on how they wished they could experiment or ‘play’ in a really positive, creative way more often. Fast forward to January 2015 and Rachel saw that the Creative Case NORTH Consortium was offering small grants for time and space to experiment and explore the Creative Case for diversity. It seemed like an opportunity too good to miss. Read more about what happened in the case study – From Outside the Frame. 


Although initially convened by the Arts Council, the sector-led approach adopted by Creative Case NORTH has allowed organisations, artists and cultural practitioners to come together to explore the creative case in new ways.

As the Creative Case NORTH cycle developed, people have moved from meeting to discuss and share ideas around the creative case for diversity to a position where they can experiment with new ways of working and test out new partnerships. 

Evaluation reports for each year and an independent data review in 2015 showed that this work has started to make the sector more accountable for the development of the Creative Case for diversity in the north:

  • 220 individuals from 146 organisations have engaged with Creative Case NORTH over three years
  • 16 commissions have explored and shared learning on the application of the Creative Case for Diversity in a North Area context
  • 60 per cent of those involved believe that Creative Case NORTH has stimulated fresh thinking about diversity in the arts and culture in the north

Looking forward

Further investment from the Arts Council in 2015/16 is supporting Creative Case NORTH to grow the consortium’s membership.

As part of this, eight funded bursaries will be led by National Portfolio Organisations and Major Partner Museums - Rural Arts North Yorkshire, Helix Arts, CapeUK, Octagon Theatre, Prism Arts, Manchester Art Gallery, Tyne & Wear Archives & Museums and Sage Gateshead. The bursaries will support the organisations to work on improving their approach to the creative case for diversity and they will share learning at a national event at Leeds City Museum on 26 April 2016.

I am pleased that we have been able to support this nationally recognised work around the Creative Case for diversity. It is a unique initiative that has enabled the sector to work in partnership with the Arts Council to put diversity at the heart of arts and culture and to celebrate and champion the wonderful range of diverse arts and cultural opportunities in the north. Sarah Maxfield, Area Director North, Arts Council England

Gateshead-based GemArts is a founding and active member of the Creative Case NORTH Consortium. Gem Arts delivers a wide range of work including promoting and staging high quality music and dance by leading South Asian artists as well as a participatory programme. East by North East is a case study illustrating how Gem Arts works in partnership with a range of organisations including: Sage Gateshead, North Benwell Youth Project, The Chat Trust, Success4All, Excelsior Academy and Linhope PRU. This Youth Music funded project provided opportunities for many young people from BAME, refugee and asylum seeker communities, all based in the west end of Newcastle.  Another key element of the programme was to further increase and diversify the skills and workforce of music practitioners in the North East through training and development. 

Watch a film about the project 

Alchemy has worked with artist Loretta Braganza on her successful exhibition Clay Journeys which showed at Bede’s World and Studio 11 Hull. It was the first major one-person show of the work of this artist, now in her sixties. She is represented in many collections including that of the Duke of Devonshire. 

Watch a short film about her exhibition

Sacred Sounds: Sikh Music Traditions and the First World War was a collaboration between Alchemy, SAA uk, the Network of Sikh Organisations and Opera North and included spoken word by Joe Williams and vocalist Christella Litras performing with Sikh performers.

Watch a film about the project