DISCUSSION: The Creative Case: Are diverse artists at risk of being made into ‘a smoothie’?
DAO director, Trish Wheatley, unpicks the various threads emerging from the Creative Case symposium
The Arts Council’s widely anticipated Creative Case symposium has begun to spark a range of lively and interesting conversations around the issue of diversity in the arts. The event, which was held at The Royal Northern College of Music in Manchester on 12 September 2011, was a day of presentations, questions and responses.
There was a general consensus among the 500-capacity auditorium that, first and foremost, diverse artists need to be programmed and valued by mainstream arts organisations because of the quality of their art rather than any legal, moral, ethical or business reasons which might have been built into those organisations’ equality plans. This is the crux of the Creative Case for diversity in the arts.
Where the debate still needs to be had is around the issue of how the art is framed. One of the panellists during a question-time session was Richard Appignanasi of Third Text who produced the publication Beyond Cultural Diversity: the Case for Creativity which was distributed at the symposium.
He argued that we must ‘put the art first. The ultimate aim, the final great achievement is what Third Text would call 'cultural integralism'. The day will have come when you are an artist, whether you are a black artist? I don’t want to hear that. Disabled artist? I’m an artist. That’s it. When we achieve that, then we will have cultural integralism and what is truly important is looking at what people creatively do. That should be the aim.’
Australian disabled artist Kath Duncan, who was also a panellist, responded by saying, ‘Some of us are always going to make different art. Some of that strength, some of those different places we come from, that is the gold. That is the gift. That’s what we bring.’
In an interview with DAO earlier in the day, symposium delegate and disabled artist Julie McNamara, who will be performing her new work, The Knitting Circle at decibel on Thursday 15 September, also responded to this risk of having the work of diverse artists dissolved into the mainstream by asking, ‘What are we going for? The human smoothie? It’s the differences we need to celebrate, not be afraid of.’
This is where the debate starts; here and now. As Tony Panayioutou rightly pointed out during the Creative Case launch event, the Arts Council have not produced yet another policy or strategy which is going to be imposed on organisations to implement. The Creative Case is an ‘approach’. And it is the responsibility of artists and organisations to take the Creative Case for Diversity forward.