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Anti-racism and connection

This is the third in our series of posts reflecting on leadership in the arts sector. Remember, you don’t need to be a leading an organisation to get something from these posts – there are nuggets here for anyone who’s leading on projects with other artists or the wider community.

Our first two posts look at how ‘power’ and ‘accountability’ are essential to being an imPACTful leader. This post explores ‘connection’.

All these posts touch on issues raised in our new exercise book, ‘Anti-racism and the arts’. You can download the complete guide here.

Why think about ‘connection’?

There is a growing recognition that if the Arts are to maintain their critical edge and relevance in our changing society they need to learn from and change as they encounter diversity. This is not always easy. Engaging with diversity can lead to conflict, disagreement and discomfort. It can make us question our deeply held beliefs. But if we are to build better connections and relationships with others, we need to understand how aspects of diversity such as ’race’, class and gender may impact upon us and on others.

It is of course hard to single out one particular aspect of ‘diversity’ as important for the Arts. All aspects of diversity are important and they intersect with each other. However, the PACT Pioneer Programme focused on this challenge with specific reference to ’race’.

Let’s unpack this a little more by asking:

Race is a social construct

Have a look at this five-minute BBC film ‘The Myth of Race’

Irrespective of our views about how ‘good’ we are as people we are all in different ways socialised to believe in the social construct of ‘race’. In the Arts we may judge creative quality and performance along the lines of race, gender and other characteristics. As an example, this study describes an experiment in which participants classified ‘good’ rock music as white and male, despite not agreeing with that when discussing it in person. Or we may make assumptions about people’s potential and skill, or about their artistic interests based on the colour of their skin.

What is anti-racism?

The Arts and Culture can be an incredibly powerful medium through which messages, stories and representations of anti-racism are shared. They can help us to imagine a world where ‘race’ and racism are not used to organise who is valued and heard.

For those involved in leading and managing others within the arts sector, a key challenge is ensuring that these very social constructs and power dynamics that Art seeks to disrupt are not replicated within our organisations and in our work on different projects. From a leadership perspective, anti-racism is about:

  • Questioning how you think about others / yourself (your own racialised position)

  • Understanding how power is maintained and challenging the belief systems and behaviours that systemically shape our society to advantage those who are white-presenting

  • Deliberately bringing in white-presenting people as part of the solution to racism – recognising that white people play a critical role in challenging the status quo

What does white privilege mean in practice in the arts sector?

Anti-racism involves questioning how you think about others/yourself (your own racial positioning).

In the PACT Pioneer programme we explored some of the ways in which white presenting people in the arts sector are ‘positioned’ in relation to others who are racialised as black or minoritized ethnic.

Here are some of the privileges attached to whiteness that we discussed

  • I mostly have a neutral relationship with the police

  • I am favoured within the sector

  • I can learn about my ‘race’ in school and in the arts sector

  • I understand that I am part of a ‘race’ with great positive influence in the world

  • I am represented in books and artwork and as a child I grew up in a world that represents me

  • I am what is beautiful and heroic in films and media

  • I’m not stereotyped and can be an individual

  • I can deny that ‘race’ and racism exists and can remain ignorant

  • I don’t wake up and wonder how my ‘race’ will impact on my day

  • I can choose not to address my privilege and be ‘upset’ when confronted about it

Something to think about

If ‘race’ is socially constructed, in what ways are you upholding the construct?

The following prompts may support you to explore this question more deeply:

For individual artists working on projects...

Consider your approach to engagement with audiences and communities from different ‘racial’ groups.

Arts organisations commissioning new work...

Consider what is seen as ‘normal’ in terms of programming and artistic output and what is seen as ‘specialist’.
How do you ‘position’ and market ethnically diverse content?


If you’d like to explore this further, remember you can download the full Anti-racism and Arts Exercise book here. The full guide will help you:

  • explore your own racial positioning and think about how this affects your connections with others

  • understand how to engage effectively with diversity and conflict in order to promote inclusion

If you have any questions, comments, or feedback drop us a line here.

Next week, we’ll be looking at ‘trust’ and how you can use it to set the tone for your organisation.

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