Getting More Diverse?

Pathways Phase 1 (Recruitment) – An Update On Our Process and Learning

 In March we launched our Pathways call as part of our Active Encouragement programme supported by the Paul Hamlyn Foundation. Dedicated readers will recall that I wrote a blog post at the time wherein I spoke of our intentions in initialising this project. Back then we shared some data, wrote about how we’d like things to be different and how we’d like to welcome a more diverse range of artists onto our programmes. Pathways itself is an extensive project that breaks down into three stages spread over two years. (Recruitment, Coaching and Mentoring, Artist Residency). We are approaching each phase as piece of Action Research: attempting to capture the learning from completed phases and using that learning to inform the following phase of work. We have now completed phase 1 (Recruitment) and I’m here to share some things about how that has worked out, and some of the things we have noticed and learned.

The Call

A lot of people looked at the data, the blog and the call when we put it all live. It was the most widely viewed self-generated news item in the history of Sound and Music. Though there was a lot of social media sharing and support from artists and composers, (particularly from the emerging generation) and it is interesting to note that, with the exception of arts organisations focused on working with disabled people, there was a resounding silence and lack of sharing from our sister and partner organisations in the cultural sector. I offer that as an observation only, tempting though it is to rush to evaluate it.

You may remember that we ran the call in two stages; an extended registration period followed by an application stage. This worked well for a number of reasons. We were able to be in direct contact with all those interested in the programme and we were able to convert 93% of interest expressions into applications when the application form went live. I was able to follow up directly with applicants to see how they were getting on with the form, rather than them having to struggle alone, or get put off and give up. We learned about Universal Design and how this might be applied to our recruitment processes and we were able to tweak the process live, adjusting our terminology based on received feedback from artists. This was particularly helpful in refining our definition of disabled people in the call and helped us to frame our thinking about mental health and neuro-diversity.

41 applicants joined during the registration phase. Here is some data about them:

58% registered through the criteria of ethnicity

31% registered through the criteria of being a disabled person

7% applied were eligible to register through both criteria

58% were male

42% were female


The shortlisting panel was made up of seven people. It featured the composers Hannah Kendall, Corey Mwamba, Ailís Ní Ríain, Jason Singh and Jo Thomas, Sam Johnston (Director of Development at Community Music) and me. Having such a wide range of voices (and opinions!) was of great help as, typically, our panels only feature one independent composer alongside Sound and Music and the partner organisation. The absence of residency partners in the shortlisting panel led to three positive outcomes:

The focus of attention remained with the artists, their work (a wide range of genres were represented) and previous barriers that they had experienced in accessing arts opportunities

The focus of attention remained on Sound and Music, our need to create a balanced final cohort and to have made real progress towards increasing diversity

The focus of attention also remained on the potential value of the relationship between the artist and Sound and Music, rather than being all about the partner organisation

We learned a valuable lesson here. Though in the past Sound and Music has worked towards composer-centred values in its selection process, these values can be at odds with the immediate needs of residency partners. I think, in truth, we have spent much of our time in the selection for programmes like Embedded and Portfolio trying to get an understanding of, and serving, the needs of residency partners, rather than allowing the majority of the focus to be on the composers and their journeys and needs, and how we at Sound and Music might respect and respond to those. This was a sobering lesson.

This was an extensive shortlisting process that took two extended day-long sessions to complete. But we had time to work thoroughly and thoughtfully, without the pressure to fulfil residency partner scheduling needs. I was reminded once again how pressure on time can lead to cramped thinking. We learned that the more control Sound and Music has over the scheduling of calls processes, the better we are able to think, and the better we are able to use our resources.


We interviewed ten candidates over two days. Hannah Kendall and Ailís Ní Ríain joined me to complete the interview panel. We specifically asked people about their access needs and there were various access requests made by the candidates; we were able to accommodate them all. The resources made available to us by the Paul Hamlyn Foundation made a huge difference here and the legacy of this work is in the reflection it allowed. Sound and Music will do well to move to a place where the assumption is that we will support people to access our interview processes. The tentative nature of some of the artist requests led to my suspicions that this is generally not the case, and that disabled candidates in fact assume that their access needs will not be provided for by arts organisations. This process and the learning associated with it has helped us to improve our service. We selected five candidates to go forward to the next stage, and were able to offer unsuccessful interview candidates bespoke support with project and professional development in the form of coaching, mentoring and consultancy advice.

A note about our learning so far…

Running the first phase of the project involved a constant process of learning and challenge. We have had healthy external challenge from artists and composers (through social media and face to face meetings) and this has helped to shape and improve our processes. I would like to express thanks to all of those who engaged with us in this, and particularly to thank our shortlisting and interview panellists who were supportive and unafraid of using probing questions to examine blind spots in our thinking.

We learned a huge amount from the cohort of applicants themselves, through their questioning and through the feedback conversations that I had with a significant number of them. We have experimented with journalistic video evaluation during Pathways, with the key people involved in the project making video diary entries reflecting on their learning and insights. This has been a valuable internal process so far, and one that will chart the development of our thinking over the entire project arc.

We heard a hugely diverse range of music and sound, and were reminded of the wealth of creativity out there, that talent has no relation to background, and that embracing a broad and expanding definition of what new music ‘is’, leads to artistic innovation, the stretching of ourselves as an organisation, and also, perhaps, a challenge to an industry which can sometimes fall back on traditional silos.

Pathways is now entering its second production phase where we will work directly with the selected composers providing them with six months of coaching and mentoring and embedding them into Sound and Music, before pairing them up with residency partner organisations. This work is just beginning and already promises to yield as much learning as the recruitment phase. Who the residency partners might be is also something we are thinking about. Is it possible to find partners who will joyfully embrace our values of diversity and come with us on this journey? (We’re sure it is!) And: how can we recruit them – can we also bring what we have learned to a more transparent and inclusive partner selection process? More about this shortly…

We set out to increase the diversity of the composers that we are working with, and we are now noticing that embracing this need for change is changing many other things about us, as well as helping us imagine a future where Sound and Music’s direct relationships with artists takes centre stage. The potential wider impact of that is where a lot of our most productive and radical thinking is at the moment.


Find out more about the selected composers here>>

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