Because it’s 2016

Because it’s 2016

“When asked why he’s chosen equal numbers of men and women (for his cabinet), the second youngest Canadian PM simply answered: ‘Because it’s 2015’.”

This cartoon sums up, for me, the conversation that’s been has been going on in the funded music sector (for at least the last 30 years) around diversity in artistic programming.




We’ve decided we’d like to put our hand up. We’d simply like to work with a broader range of people, and to do that we need to take some action.


In our corner of the music world we’ve spoken up a number of times about the benefits and values of progressing towards gender parity in programming and we’ve put policies in place to ensure that the events that we are directly involved in supporting feature both male and female artists. We are a mixed male and female team amongst whom are a number of people who have lived through experiences of being treated differently, taken less seriously and in some mysterious way ‘not seen’ because of gender; this has given us some confidence in speaking up for change in this regard when it comes to new music.


In other ways though we are pretty homogeneous. We are white. We are middle class. We work in London. We are University educated. It has been harder, and taken us longer, for us to develop and agree a strategy for broadening the range of artists we work with beyond seeking to address the gap in gender parity. We have needed to be accepting of our growing awareness of the lack of diversity amongst our team, and we have needed to accumulate enough data to gain an understanding of who is (and, importantly, who isn’t) applying for the opportunities that we create. The artists we support are our programme. Broadening the range of people that we work with is where we have decided to start.

There are some sobering statistics in our recently published Equal Opportunities data . Very few disabled people apply to our opportunities, and sadly, an even smaller proportion of those applications have gone on to convert to success. I can think of only one disabled artist who has joined us to participate in our Adopt A Composer, Portfolio and Embedded residency programmes since Sound and Music’s formation. Not good.


The stats around ethnic diversity have some big holes in them as well. In the 2015/16 financial year not a single person of Indian, Pakistani or Bangladeshi heritage applied to our opportunities. There are other areas where we would like to be doing better here as well.


50% of all of the people who applied to our programmes in the 2015/16 financial year live in London.


And despite all of our campaigning work on gender, only 31% of our applications in 2015-16 were from women.


We are testing a few things as part of a major Paul Hamlyn Foundation supported programme which we are calling Active Encouragement. A significant part of this programme is the recently announced Pathways opportunity. This opportunity specifically invites UK artists who are either registered disabled or from backgrounds other than White British to join our residency programmes. We will learn what the barriers are, both real and perceived, through working closely with these artists. We’ll discover some things about ourselves and the region of the musical world that we inhabit. Not all of these things may be easy to sit with. We are ok with that. We are up for changing the way that we do things.


In addition to this we’ll be creating opportunities with a larger range of partners outside of London. We want to see if this increases the number of artist from outside of the city that engage with our opportunities. If it doesn’t we’ll try something else.


Here’s a true story of human folly…


From the late 10th century the Vikings maintained a colony on Southern Greenland. At its height this colony maintained around 3000 people and had its own regional government. During the Little Ice Age the colony died out. The colonists succumbed to starvation as their farming practices failed due to the changing environmental conditions.  The real tragedy of the story however is that this famine and death was entirely avoidable. By the time the crisis bit the Greenland Vikings had come into contact with the Inuit peoples migrating from the North. A people who were using a far more effective hunting based strategy to survive in the unforgiving conditions. The Christian Vikings failed to recognise, or accept, that their ‘high culture’ could adapt or learn anything from the barbaric ‘Pagan’ outsiders. They went for the maladaptive option. Scared to embrace difference and change the 400 year old colony died and was forgotten. Silly them.


The debate around diversity in artistic programming circles like a locked groove. The same conversation rotates with little really changing. Comforting responsibility dispersal goes on and on. The threatened and sanctified artistic vision of music programmer/curator/conductor gatekeepers is reverentially evoked.  Meritocratic ideals are intoned like mumbled prayers. Facebook responses rally in supportive solidarity against the heresies of ‘tokenism’. Uncritically defensive fingers wave in rebuke against simple inquires into how we all might just try to make things a little better. It’s all as comfortable, predictable and cloistered as a pair of nicely worn in old pants. Silly us.


Chatting at a recent event an artist told me that she couldn’t bear it if we were still having these same conversations in another 30 years time. She needn’t worry. We won’t be. Unless action to improve diversity moves to the centre of the music programmes of funded organisations I don’t really see there being much of a funded music sector left by then as it will no longer be relevant to wider society. Let’s not go down the maladaptive path.


Read more about Sound and Music’s Active Encouragement: Pathways Programme here>>

8 thoughts on “Because it’s 2016

  1. This is a great article, thank you Richard, all very honest and sadly very true. And if you find it hard to engage and be diverse in London, imagine how tricky it is in rural Gloucestershire. This isn’t just an issue for the music and sound industry, it’s across all art forms. We are all in it together, as arts professionals.

    I’m putting my hand up and waving back, I too would like to take some action too. Working in a sector that has artists living in poverty with low/no pay, we limit access to only those that can financially afford to be engaged with/in the arts. That’s not right. So we must change it. Silly us indeed.

  2. In the 1970’s I moved to London because that’s where the action was. If you were serious about music and you had some way of doing so, you moved to London. This has almost certainly got much more difficult to do, now that the cost of living in London has been wrenched upwards by the use of property for capital accumulation. But I’m not sure that changing this situation falls within the remit of S&M.

  3. My 30-year career as a lecturer in one of the largest departments of music in a British university has given me an insight into the ‘problem’ of diversity. Though there was a significant Pakistani community based near the centre of town, not one student from that community applied to the department as a musician. There were a very few Caribbean and African music students. I attended the first 30 years of the Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival, and the same could be said about the performers, composers and members of the audience that came.
    The European music tradition began in the Christian church with singing, graduating to the patronage of the aristocracy with the development of musical instruments. This artistic development took place over millennia, to as we have it in 2016.
    It appears that music making is not a feature of the Moslem culture. This being the case, few, if any, children from Moslem families are given access to music lessons. Consequently, it is surprising that there are any applications for composing opportunities offered by Sound and Music from Pakistani and Bangladeshi people.
    In British primary schools, ethnic children will have some experience of music-making, but without encouragement from the home, this will not develop into a meaningful accomplishment.
    A most laudable project to tackle this issue is the work undertaken by the outreach/ education wing of the “hcmf” which sets up sound/ music workshops in local schools, where the pupil population is very diverse. These projects will represent the first time that most of the pupils will have had of participating in the creation of new music.
    This is a bottom-up approach to diversity in music education, though one which I suspect will take decades to result in applications to the opportunities offered by Sound and Music.
    A few words summarise the problems: cultural traditions, religion, poor funding for music education, integration.

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