Culture House Daily

It’s not the job of the arts industry to get more ethnic minorities through its doors

10 June 2014

6:44 PM

10 June 2014

6:44 PM

You’ve got to feel sorry for the arts world. Decades of self-imposed diversity drives and community outreach schemes and still – still! – they’re told they’re not being inclusive enough.

‘Even from the cheapest seats in the [Royal Opera] house,’ Harriet Harman said yesterday, ‘I couldn’t see in the audience anyone who wasn’t like myself: white, metropolitan and middle class.’

Tory culture minister Sajid Javid had the same message last week, noting how few people from black and ethnic backgrounds are given grants from the Arts Council. Before this Jeremy Paxman was banging on about how poetry needed to engage with ordinary people.

It reminds me of another age. ‘The ability of good music to enthral the masses,’ wrote Joseph Stalin in a 1936 Pravda article, ‘has been sacrificed on the altar of petit-bourgeois formalism.’ That’s basically still the message: stop the wanky formalist crap and start making proper art that people like.


It’s hardly surprising that Harriet Harman takes such a socialist realist position considering she was part of a government that instrumentalised the crap out of art till all that was left was a vast ocean of out-of-tune community choirs and concrete doves on plinths. And I expect simplicities from Paxman – why we think anyone who’s made their career just from asking people questions should be the font of all knowledge baffles me. But I am surprised at Javid’s misstep.

Hating the new culture secretary doesn’t come as naturally to me as it does my colleagues. I like the fact that he’s not cultured. I like culture secretaries that aren’t parti pris. Being culture secretary shouldn’t be about personal taste; it should be about economics. Javid is there to balance the books, not decide who to put in the next Tate show. Besides, his taste isn’t all bad; he came to my festival. More fundamentally I buy Fraser Nelson’s argument that it’s a virtue to have someone in this department who isn’t also a shop steward for the arts.

But his opening gambit as culture secretary – his querying the low levels of arts participation among ethnic minorities and the poor – while understandable worries me. On ironic grounds, of course, it’s delicious. Here we have a Tory former banker censuring the art world on their commitment to an equal society. LOL.

Of course, statistically, he’s absolutely right. Compared to the City, ethnic minorities make up an embarrassing percentage of the arts workforce. All those equality monitors: they don’t seem to be helping one bit. Doing nothing on the other hand, or being ruthlessly shitty – which I think is the City’s equivalent of an equality monitor – seems to foster ethnic and socio-economic equality like nothing else.

But that the arts industries are failing at equality and diversity doesn’t mean that we should rage against them for not doing enough. I mean seriously: do we really think anyone in the world has done more to try to get black and ethnic minority audiences? Short of chaining minorites to seats, arts institutions couldn’t have done any more.

If anything the instinct within the arts is to engage in reverse racism. Thus, for example, the conveyor belt of increasingly obscure Venezualan youth orchestras flown over at our expense taking precedence over homegrown ones. Besides, it should not be the art industry’s job to get more ethnic minorities through their doors. Producing high quality art is quite enough for them to be getting on with without us demanding they change society too.

It’s too late to ask adults to change their mind on the arts anyway. The problem lies deeper. It’s at school stage that things needs to change. And it’s in schools that governments – both Left and Right – have failed on the arts. The Right has demoted the importance of arts subjects and cut funding, while the Left has meddled with the curriculum and instituted politically correct biases.

The result is that the poorest and most marginalised in society go out into the world not knowing anything about that bit of culture that their taxes will be used to subsidise. And then we wonder why they don’t go to the opera? Or the theatre. Or dance. It’s quite simple really. Teach all kids about opera and theatre and dance, and they will go to the opera and theatre and dance. Don’t, and they won’t.

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Show comments
  • shiva

    We need to get down on our knees to thank these two
    کارشناسی ارشد بدون کنکوردرب اتوماتیکköpek mamasıköpek cinsleri

  • shiva
  • mina

    We will take no lessons from those who try to score points over National Security
    پارتیشندرب اتوماتیککرکره برقی

  • Gwangi

    Even leftie Michael Rosen is attacking an overpromoted ethnic candidate, so the arts minister is in real trouble.

  • Gwangi

    Errrr… and can anyone remind me why we appointed someone utterly ignorant of the arts, whose background is in being a City Boy finance dodgy dealer, as Arts Minister in the first place?
    Would he really have been appointed by the diversity-fixated Tories if he were a white man? Yeah right…
    It’s bad enough young and inexperienced persons being made Lords and Ladies just because they are brown-skinned (stand up Warsi and Lord Ali). Now we have to put up with ethnics being parachuted in to Ministerial roles – and by the Tories FFS!
    Merit is all. Appointing ignorant mediocrities solely to meet diversity targets is something we see in so many over-promoted women and ethnic minorities at the BBC and in local councils and in the state education system. It’s wrong there, as it is wrong here.
    Sack this wally and appoint someone as arts minister who actually knows something about the arts, who goes to the theatre and galleries, maybe who has even worked in the arts as a creative artist of some description.

  • Hexhamgeezer

    If dear PIE eyed Harriet really cared she herself would have done something instead of berating others. She could have married a black bloke, she could have had some black kids and sent them to the opera. But she didn’t because she’s a bleedin’ hypocrite

  • baboulie

    somehow appealing to a more ethnically and culturally diverse audience will mean dumbing down and rampant philistinism? two arguments very badly and falsely drawn together here.

  • Michael

    Speaking from the Antipodes, Hatty Harman seems to me the most dangerous politician in the UK. Yes, thanks to Theresa May for supporting her equality policy before the last election. My heart bled for Britain when I read that.

  • Gwangi

    The fact is that public schools are around 20% ethnic and so there are LOADS of very privileged ethnic minority persons out there. The arts is low paid and risky, so often these people go into accountancy, medicine, IT or law, where ethnic minorities are massively over-represented (though I am not holding my breath for positive action schemes for whites educated at state schools).

    A few years ago I supported the ethnic outreach schemes etc. Then I realised that the people using them to get into TV and the arts were ALREADY privileged and often privately educated blacks and Asians. So many 4th rate BME candidates make careers out of their race these days; they know managers and TV/radio producers always want an ethnic on a panel, and hey presto the Bonnies and Kwames of this world are coining in because of racism against whites.

    The final straw for me came when I found out the BBC writing department had a Muslim only writing competition running. No, no, and NO! ENOUGH of all these race industry schemes! Enough of this diversity worship! Maybe let’s have some schemes for working class state-educated white boys to get into the arts – because that group is by far the most discriminated in our society now.

    And what is that horrible nag Harman going on about now. She is privately educated, upper-middle class, born to a top surgeon. I am not like her and not are many other educated white persons. In fact, probably the only thing I have in common with the old gorgon in our ethnicity…
    And we have an ethnic arts minister who knows zilch about the arts (as David Lister in the Independent has pointed out) and was only appointed for racist reasons – because he is Asian, not on merit. I think making a packet of pork scratchings arts minister would lead to more intelligent debate, frankly.

  • Grey Wolf

    Why should minorities be ‘engineered’ into Culture? Nobody is blocking participation and there should be no affirmative action in Culture. But a large section of Muslims have chosen to stay out. People like Lenny Henry are contemptible for their racist views.

  • Donafugata

    Has it occurred to Javid that the reason for the low level of participation among ethnic ( not for much longer ) minorities might be cultural rather than financial.

    Shakespeare could be translated into Oruba with Lenny Henry playing every part and it still wouldn’t attract the target audience who’d rather watch a TV talent contest or sport.

    Then there are some (not minority enough) who reject anything from a different culture for fear of contamination and for whom art is a punishable offence.

    • Kennybhoy

      I have seen Shakespeare performed in African villages, Indian villages, in war zones…

      • Donafugata

        I don’t doubt it but it’s probably a lot easier to get bums on seats in small places where there is little in the way of communal entertainment.

        But in sarf Lundun?

  • The Masked Marvel

    The Proms made an effort last year to bring more minorities in. Their solution was to drop the Classical music altogether and feature some hip-hop darlings for an evening. Anyone who objected is, of course, racist. Will this get more minority bums on seats for this year’s Proms?

    • Donafugata

      All that is achieved by this kind of pc lunacy is to disappoint its regular audience while still being ignored by the minorities.minorities.

      Can you imagine the reaction if you approached a group of black youth and invited them to a hip-hop concert at the Albert Hall?

      • The Masked Marvel

        They would go. The content is what matters, not the venue. The more telling scenario would be to ask organisers of a hip-hop (or pop, or jazz, or “world music”) festival to include an evening of Haydn and Beethoven string quartets, and see the response you get. The people screaming for an increased minority attendance at the opera wouldn’t dream of such a thing.

    • Grey Wolf

      There are few things as risible and stupid as hip hop or (c)rap music.

      • Mike Power

        Tracey Emin? Damian Hirst, Julian Schnabel, John Cage’s “Four minutes, thirty-three seconds”, Milo Moiré and her “PlopEgg Painting”. “Vomit Painter” Millie Brown…

        • Grey Wolf

          Good point. I can’t see the point of Tracey Emin and Hirst aside from reducing Art to garbage.
          In my defence, ”there are few things…”. But you make a good point.

          • Mike Power

            Yeah, it was a bit of a cheap shot. 🙂

            As it happens I don’t have much time for most Rap or Hip-Hop either. As a lifelong lover of Black American music I am saddened at where it has ended up. Lionel Hampton used to tour schools giving talks about Black jazz music and was shocked and depressed at the almost complete ignorance from the (mostly Black) students. The good thing is good music and art in general is still being produced and the internet has provided unprecedented access to it. And there is the whole question of defining “art”. I watched Breaking Bad, absolutely brilliant TV drama, but I couldn’t be bothered to travel to London to see Debbie Tucker Green’s play, ‘Nut’, at The National.

  • global city

    This week’s edition should be titled ‘Is the edifice cultural Marxism crumbling?’

    • Grey Wolf

      No, its firmly in place held together by politicians (all the mainstream parties), cultural icons (film, TV, press) sports and a dulled people consuming that nonsense.

      • global city

        Sadly true.

        I was dragged to a meeting a few years ago organised by a group called ‘Liberty Halls’. The highlight was some old man who must have been in his 90s. Nothing wrong with that, but it was clear that he had been giving the same tub thumping speech since the 1920s’!

        It was cheered to the rafters.

        • Grey Wolf

          I feel your pain (Clinton hand gesture)!

      • Kennybhoy

        And, alas, with the consent of a substantial part of the population…

  • Lucy Sky Diamonds

    It is noones job but the minorities themselves. Now leave it well alone.

  • Kitty MLB

    The arts world doesn’t need or require dictating to, or emotional blackmail from
    politicians. Lefties with furrowed brows, obsessed with being politically correct.
    Harriet Hateman says the Opera houses she frequents are too white.
    Honestly does she sit there noticing the colour of people, are there notices
    outside saying ‘ No Blacks’ of course not.
    Harriet dear, maybe they’re just not interested, horses for courses and all that,
    we live in a democracy, people are allowed to chose their interests.

    • sfin

      Indeed! – if I went to the Notting Hill carnival and complained that there were too many black faces there – I’m pretty sure I’d have my collar felt before too long – why haven’t the same PC criteria been employed against that hideous woman?

      ‘Ethnic minorities’ don’t go in for hill walking in the Lake District either – it’s not ‘racist’ – it’s fact – get over it!

      • Kitty MLB

        Excellent points. Also a while ago some made an issue with the fact that not many Ethnic Minorities live in the countryside. We had a
        black lady living near the village. The local press found out she was moving and tried to suggest she was made to feel unwelcome because of her colour. But she was moving because she couldn’t
        drive and the train service is rubbish- the world is utterly diabolical.

        • fundamentallyflawed

          We have art for the masses – its called pop music. I have no over whelming desire to attend opera other than as a curio. But I do not demand that opera changes to appeal to me

          • Michael H Kenyon

            Bien-pensants still think ‘high culture’ will raise the lower orders, hence Ms Harman wishing for a more ethically mixed audience. But I bet there were oriental and eastern Europeans in the audience. I rarely see people like Ms Harman at the jazz, rock and funk concerts I go to, but I do see black people (maybe not in the middle category). Hattie needs to loosen up a bit.

            • Kennybhoy

              Well said.

          • Kennybhoy

            Pop music is unsubsidized. Opera isnt.

    • Kennybhoy

      “The arts world doesn’t need or require dictating to…”

      You take the b******’s gold you dance to their tune. Artists have always been dictated to by their patrons. These days the state is the biggest patron. The art “art industry” (lol) sold it’s integrity when it actively prostituted itself to the state.

  • JoeDM

    Last year the BBC showed a new production of Henry V and the Duke of York was a black actor.

    Since when did the Plantagenets have a diversity policy?

    • mohdanga

      Saw and advert for a remake of Rapunzel (I live in Canada)….she was black. Most representative of Germany in the late 1700s….

      • LunarCity7

        but the term “whitewashing” is shrieked the moment a white person is cast in any role which maybe should, potentially could, or sometimes would be played by a person of any other ethnicity.

        An all white cast is indefensible no matter what the reasoning, be it regarding historical context or simply that the best auditionees happened not to be minorities.

        The double standard is mind boggling.

    • Kitty MLB

      To be quite honest Joe, I am surprised the Left haven’t banned Shakespeare’s
      Othello. Remember when Iago tells brabantio an old black ram is tubbing your
      white ewe. Referring to Othello’s colour. And Shakespeare problematizes
      the word ‘ black’ in that play in many different ways.
      I hope I haven’t given the politically correct brigade ideas.

      • ADW

        Well there’s a good eg of PC in the arts – why is othello always black these days? Surely he should be played by a moor, which is not the same thing …

      • Kennybhoy


    • Kennybhoy

      White actors play Othello…?

      Much as it pains me to link to a Guardian article…

  • MC73

    Get rid of the whole department. Allow museums to look after themselves and put the government art collection in one of them. Civil servants could instead look at some of the charming prints Ikea has on offer.

    And just bin the rest of the crap the department funds – all it does is fund useless wankers to produce useless wank. The ethnicity of said wankers is really not the problem.

    The arts in Britain managed without public subsidy for, well almost the whole of recorded time. I think they will manage OK without further funding.

    • JoeDM

      Who let the philistines out?

      • MC73


    • Kennybhoy

      Not strictly true man. The state has always been a major patron of the arts since time immemorial…

  • andylowings

    I am so fed up with being abused and “confronted by my middle class prejudices” whenever I go out somewhere that I have stopped going. Any performance with an Art Council logo I steer clear of now. They took the money and it will show, artistically.

  • Leo McKinstry

    If the arts world doesn’t want to be lectured by politicians, it should stop its special pleading and constant demands for more taxpayers’ money, usually laced with emotional blackmail and sneering remarks about “philistines”. On the question of multi-racialism, I was amused to see recently that the City of London, so loathed by all fashionable progressives as a cesspit of reactionary greed, is far more diverse than any other institution in Britain, with 32 per cent of its workforce hailing from ethnic minorities. That is a figure about which all the right-on luvvies, with their stream of diversity plans and positive action programmes, can only dream.

    • Kennybhoy