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									    Cultural Diversity Policy in the Arts: An Analysis of its Weaknesses and a Vision
                                     for its Future

    In the arts community, cultural diversity policy refers to initiatives that aim to
increase the participation and attendance of traditionally underrepresented groups.
South Asian, African, and Caribbean communities are the main targets of the outreach
efforts. A chief aim of cultural diversity funding was to support the development of
art programs that seek to open up conversation between arts institutions and target
communities. Cultural diversity policy came to the forefront of the debate in the arts
community in the late 1990s and throughout the early-to-mid 2000s. Before passing
judgement about the success or failure of the arguments driving cultural diversity
initiatives in the arts sector, the sources of the pressure placed on arts organisations to
change the way they approach programming and audience development must be
examined. The content of the debate within the arts community about cultural
diversity must also be considered. Finally, it is necessary to place that debate in
context by analysing the implementation and impact of a program that received
funding under the auspices of cultural diversity initiatives. The overall success of
cultural diversity policy in the arts will be determined by the extent to which arts
ambassador programs established dynamic communications between arts
organisations and target communities, as well as by the extent to which ambassador
programs hold up under the scrutiny of critics who have raised legitimate concerns
about the viability of “cultural diversity” as a path forward for the arts.
    The pressure on publicly funded arts institutions to adopt cultural diversity
initiatives stems from the priorities of New Labour cultural policy in the 1990s
(Appleton 2004; Dyer, 2007; Hadaway, 2009). At this time, Government policy
treated the arts as tools to aid the realisation of a political agenda of social inclusion
(Hadaway, 2009). Government’s emphasis on diversifying artistic programming and
audience composition “transformed [arts institutions], away from their founding
purpose of widening development, knowledge and appreciation of the arts towards the
pursuit of inclusiveness, diversity, value for money, and customer satisfaction”
(Hadaway, 2009).
    Although the Arts Council has been exploring the implications of cultural
diversity on the arts for more than three decades (Maitland, ed., 2006, p.21), its most
recent cultural diversity initiatives coincide with the rise of New Labour’s cultural

policy. In 1998, the Arts Council published a five-year cultural diversity action plan,
which highlighted the Council’s commitment to developing a system of “sound
support and administration” for cultural diversity in the arts (Khan, 2002, p.3). The
Arts Council believed that financial stability for artists and arts organisations was the
key to creating culturally diverse artwork and audiences.
    In Ambition for the Arts ACE highlights cultural diversity as one of its five
priorities for 2003-2006: “[w]e want cultural diversity to be a central value in our
work, running through all our programmes and relationships” (Anon, 2003, p.6). The
shared commitment of DCMS and ACE toward furthering an agenda of cultural
diversity in the arts is evident in the Funding Agreement between Arts Council
England and the Department for Culture, Media and Sport from April 2003-March
2006 and from 2005-2008. In the earlier document, DCMS and ACE agree on the aim
of increasing the arts attendance of the black, minority, and ethnic population by 3%
and of increasing its participation in the arts by 2% (Anon, 2003, p.12). The latter
funding agreement demonstrates the continued efforts of the DCMS and ACE to
increase access to and participation in the arts for “priority groups” (Anon, 2005, p.3).
The documentation produced in the late 1990s and early-to-mid 2000s by the two
main bodies that support publicly funded arts organisations reflects the New Labour
cultural agenda.
    Numerous spokespeople for ACE have articulated the organisation’s arguments in
support of cultural diversity initiatives. In 2002, ACE Chief Executive Peter Hewitt
declared that “the Arts Council’s job is to help create the platform for a multiplicity of
artistic expression in this country, to reflect the multiplicity of cultural experiences in
society and the richness of the environment in which we live” (Hewitt, 2002, as cited
by Panayiotou, 2006, p.7). He sees ACE as a facilitator that strives to bring about
equality by placing cultural diversity at the core of its mission. Four years later, Tony
Panayiotou, Director of Diversity at ACE, echoes Hewitt’s sentiments. Panayiotou
states that the driving force behind ACE’s funding policy is a firm commitment to the
view that the arts “need to be relevant to the many, not just the few” (Panayiotou,
2006, p.7). ACE’s pledge to create a culturally diverse arts sector is the culmination
of a chain reaction that gained momentum from the ideology of New Labour cultural
policy. It follows that publicly funded arts organisations will feel the trickle-down
effect of ACE’s commitment to cultural diversity, which manifests itself as an

“increasing pressure to produce and present more ‘culturally diverse’ work and
develop more ‘culturally diverse’ audiences” (Maitland, ed., 2006, p.16).
   These pressures sparked a lively debate within the arts sector about the impact of
cultural diversity policy on arts organisations. Cultural diversity initiatives have both
ardent supporters and vehement dissenters. Many other voices have also offered
critiques of cultural diversity policy without discounting it altogether. Ultimately, the
question these individuals are all grappling with is, does the cultural diversity agenda
stand up to scrutiny?
   One thread of the debate in the arts sector is about the extent to which institutional
support of a cultural diversity funding policy will lead to greater creativity and
innovation in the arts. Ghilardi, Younge, and N. Andrews share the view promoted by
ACE that a major benefit of cultural diversity initiatives is that they foster creativity
and contribute to artistic innovation (Maitland, ed., 2006). Cultural diversity becomes
a source of creativity when individuals draw upon their unique cultural background to
stimulate artistic creation (Maitland, ed., 2006, pp.14&57-8). N. Andrews argues that
creative and innovative culturally diverse programming increases an organisation’s
“productivity and sales due to a wider repertoire of actions at [its] disposal”
(Maitland, ed., 2006, p.64). Cultural diversity encourages creativity while also
offering clear incentives to motivate arts organisations to work towards diversifying
programming and audiences.
   While many members of the arts community have celebrated the creative potential
of an arts policy that embraces cultural diversity, numerous others have voiced their
opposition to ACE’s cultural diversity agenda by arguing that it suppresses creativity.
Artists have expressed concern about the division between mainstream and culturally
diverse arts – a division they perceive to be a consequence of cultural diversity
funding policies (Shah, 2006, p.18). Some artists and members of the arts community
reject the institutional move toward valuing artists and art based on the ethnicity of
the artist rather than on the quality of the creation (Shah, 2006, pp.16-17; Appleton,
2004). They speak out against the fact that arts organisations now seem to value
artistic creation on the basis of its potential to attract new and diverse audiences to a
venue (Appleton, 2004; Maitland, ed., 2006, pp.82&149). Shah voices a concern,
shared within the arts community, about the detrimental effects of ACE cultural
diversity policy on the ability of the arts community to foster an atmosphere of
creativity: “[m]any artists whom I believe are making serious, exciting, and often
political work either feel that their work is getting ignored or that they are being
forced to make work with a particular ethnic focus just because that’s where the
money is” (Shah, 2006, p.21). There is a real anxiety that artistic talent is being
overlooked in favour of the perceived benefits of presenting “culturally diverse” art.
    Members of the arts community have also expressed concern that the emphasis on
representing culturally diverse communities in, and attracting culturally diverse
audiences to, arts venues will lead to uncreative programming decisions. Graves
contends that this attitude “leads to the view that traditional mushaira will be of
interest to people of South Asian origin, and in doing so treats them as a homogenous
group, whilst also assuming that it appeals to them alone” (Maitland, ed., 2006,
p.154). He argues that the cultural diversity paradigm encourages a simplistic view of
both arts programs and their audiences to the detriment of all parties involved.
Numerous individuals in the arts community have spoken out against the philosophy
behind ACE’s interpretation of cultural diversity because they believe it damages
artists’ creativity and limits innovative artistic venues.
    The concept of multiculturalism, which lies behind ACE’s thinking about cultural
diversity, has also been criticised by members of the arts community. Sardar believes
that multiculturalism is an outdated idea that “is in crisis” because it is “too fixated
with containing and managing difference” (Maitland, ed., 2006, p.41). Appleton
contributes to the analysis of the viability of cultural diversity by arguing that
“[r]ather than opening up national cultural life, and enabling more people to enjoy
more different kinds of culture, cultural diversity policy could actually end up
dividing it and closing it down” (2003). Multiculturalism promotes cultural isolation
rather than conversation between artists with diverse perspectives (Maitland, ed.,
2006, pp.47&56). Ultimately, the rigid cultural divisions created by multiculturalism
are seen as a failure of cultural diversity policy to create an artistic environment that
cultivates connections that enrich our understanding of contemporary society.
    One of the arguments in support of the drive to make the arts sector more
culturally diverse is that the policy will allow a wider variety of voices to participate
in the artistic conversation. However, many critics believe that the emphasis on
multiculturalism and cultural difference actually destroys the avenues of
communication that art should ideally create (Maitland, ed., 2006, pp.47, 56&141).
Members of the arts community contend that one measure of a successful funding
policy is the degree to which it enables artists and arts organisations to initiate
partnerships and start conversations with an ever wider portion of the potential arts
audience (Maitland, ed., 2006, pp.80&104). Sadar proposes that the arts community
should seek to move beyond the concept of a two-way conversation between the artist
or the arts venue and the target group. His vision for the future of the arts is based on
the concept of polylogue, which arises because “individual cultures are complex and
speak with multiple voices; [thus] ...they engage not in a dialogue with other cultures
but rather polylogue, where a number of different voices speak simultaneously”
(Maitland, ed., 2006, p.44). It follows that a true rejection of the tendency to view
culturally diverse groups as homogenous would result in an effort to foster a
multifaceted conversation about the arts.
   To judge whether or not cultural diversity policy stands up to the criticisms raised
against it, one must first examine how ACE directed its funding during the late 1990s
and the early-to-mid 2000s and whether or not the programs the organisation financed
stand up to scrutiny. Arts ambassador programs are an embodiment of the cultural
diversity agenda in the arts as they were designed to stimulate communication
between arts organisations and potential audiences. ACE’s support of numerous
ambassador programs demonstrates a good faith effort to address the shortcomings of
the way many arts institutions have traditionally operated.
   Arts Ambassadors are typically members of a target audience who act as a liaison
between an arts organisation and their community (Jennings, 2003, p.9). The role of
arts ambassadors came to be valued within the arts community because of their ability
to “stimulate positive word of mouth [about a venue’s programming] and to listen to
audience feedback in order to generate greater audiences” (Jennings, 2003, p.9).
Many members of the arts community, including Larsen and Griffin, celebrate Arts
Ambassador programs as successful tools for creating links between arts organisations
and hard-to-reach target audiences (Maitland, ed., 2006, pp.173-4&179).
   The ACE-funded Arts About Manchester (AAM) arts ambassador program was
designed to extend the learning of the Arts Ambassador Units pilot project (1998-
2001), which targeted African, Caribbean, South Asian and Chinese audiences –
communities previously underrepresented in the conversation about the arts (Anon,
2003, p.3; Jennings, 2003, p.65). One outcome of the AAM ambassador program was
that the arts organisations involved attained a greater level of sophistication in their
approach to programming and outreach to culturally diverse audiences. AAM had an
arts ambassador approach outlets in Black and Asian areas that typically only received
information about “culturally specific” events about the possibility of receiving
information about mainstream events (Anon, 2003, p.7). Informal feedback from the
30 organisations selected to additional marketing information indicated that this
change was well-received (Anon, 2003, p.7). This example demonstrates the value of
communicating with culturally diverse communities about all aspects of a venue’s
programming – a lesson learned when arts organisations reach out to target
communities via arts ambassador programs.
       The Networking Project was another arts ambassador program funded by
ACE. Multiple arts venues in the Birmingham area joined forces in this project, which
was aimed at developing South Asian, African, and Caribbean audiences (Jennings,
2003, p.69). During the second phase of the project, the arts ambassador recruited a
panel of advisors from the target community to work with her, with the arts
organisations, and within their communities (Anon, 2003, p.4). The decision to recruit
a panel of community representatives demonstrates that arts organisations recognised
the value of consulting multiple voices from the target community to gain a better
understanding of the complexity of their potential audience. The panel was invited to
meet with “staff members of the museum, curators and events organizers in
particular” (Anon, 2003, p.4). The willingness of arts organisations to seek the input
of the ambassador and advisory panel on programming is indicative of the ways that
arts organisations are learning how to increase the quality of conversations with target
       A Practical Guide to Working with Arts Ambassadors, published in 2003,
draws together much of what has been learned from the arts ambassador pilot
programs. The guide highlights best practice for running an ambassador program,
including the pitfalls to avoid. One major mistake arts organisations make is to
presume that a member of their target group will have contacts within the target
community (Jennings, 2003, p.47). Moreover, Jennings cautions that “ambassadors
may need to learn more about ‘their’ communities since no social groups are
homogeneous” (2003, p.20). While arts ambassador programs were conceived within
the framework of multiculturalism, the process of designing and trialling ambassador
programs has led to a more nuanced understanding of programming and audience
       Although many members of the arts community rightfully celebrate the
success of ambassador programs at reaching target communities, the program is not
immune to the criticisms of multiculturalism raised by Sadar, Sondhi, Ghilardi and
Appleton. At its best, multiculturalism is only capable of generating two-way
conversation. Dialogue between a venue and a target audience is limiting to both
parties for it does not recognise the complexity of individual or organisational
identity. Because ambassador programs are not designed to facilitate polylogue, with
the sophisticated understanding of cultural diversity that such a conversation entails,
the programs have a dangerous tendency to maintain the status quo, and, arguably, to
stifle creativity. In spite of the successful connections forged by arts ambassadors
between venues and target audiences, From indifference to enthusiasm: patterns of
arts attendance in England shows that there are many potential audiences that arts
organisations are not reaching effectively (Bunting et al, 2008, p.7-8). Arts
ambassador programs, as originally structured, are not capable of overcoming the
multiculturalist worldview. The question for the arts world is how to improve tools –
like the ambassador program – in order to move toward the ultimate goal of engaging
funding bodies, arts organisations, artists, as well as current and potential audiences in
a polylogue that will contribute to the development of innovative arts programming in
contemporary British society.
       The cultural diversity initiative championed by New Labour, DCMS, and ACE
was welcomed as an opportunity to modernise arts institutions by some members of
the arts community and rejected by other members. The potential of the policy to
spark or smother creativity, to bring together or divide communities, and to promote
or discourage communication and cultural exchange were the main points of
contention debated within the arts community. While arts ambassador programs were
widely praised by the arts community as an effective means of reaching target
audiences and as useful tools for assisting arts organisations in the process of
developing accessible programming, the shortfalls of the program come into focus
when examined in light of the contentious debate about the relevance of cultural
diversity policy in the publicly funded arts world.
       A survey of the current ACE cultural policy indicates that the funding body
has moved away from its emphasis on cultural diversity. “In 2008 Arts Council
England adopted a new mission: we work to get great art to everyone by
championing, developing and investing in experiences that enrich people’s lives”
(Anon, 2010, p.4). The Arts Council plan (2008-2011) names four development
priorities for the organisation: digital opportunity, visual arts, children and young
people, London 2012 (Anon, 2009, p.11-2). Achieving Great Art for Everyone
highlights ACE’s vision of Britain as the home of world-class arts (Anon, 2010, p.8).
The term “cultural diversity” is absent from the most recent ACE documents. Any
reference to diversity in these documents is intended in the broadest sense of the term.
The updated mission and vision articulated by ACE, along with the shift in
terminology employed, demonstrate that cultural diversity is no longer a priority for
the funding body.
       The fact that ACE has, in essence, abandoned its cultural diversity policy can
be interpreted as evidence that the arguments it presented in support of the initiative
did not stand up to scrutiny. In the end, the vociferous objections from within the arts
community to the policy, compounded by the failure of ACE-funded cultural diversity
initiatives to achieve their audience development quotas for underrepresented groups
(Dyer, 2007), led to the demise of cultural diversity policy in the arts. While the
underlying assumptions of cultural diversity did not stand up to scrutiny, not all of the
initiatives designed to draw culturally diverse audiences to venues are irreparably
flawed. The arts ambassador program, in particular, may present a way forward for
the arts community. The processes by which arts ambassadors interact with target
communities as well as the strategic use of ambassadors by arts organisation are areas
that are ripe for further research. The concept of polylogue can provide a focal point
for future research. The arts community should explore the following questions: Can
arts institutions facilitate polylogue, and if so, how? How would polylogue alter the
way an arts institution functions? In particular, how would polylogue impact arts
programming? If the arts community commits itself to re-envisioning the role of the
arts ambassador, the ambassador program has the potential to move beyond the
simplistic conception of cultural diversity proposed by ACE and toward the
incorporation of a multifaceted conversation at the heart of the way arts organisations


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