Arts Emergency

Dear Tate

Since posting this formal response, we’ve spoken with staff at Tate, and can confirm that their project is not going to duplicate or in any way adversely affect our own service delivery. The funding was received in 2013. The broader point of this piece stands, and we will leave it up as the general issue applies to many large orgs and funders in our sectors.

…if you want to work with us, this is how not to do it

Arts Emergency is a small charity that works to redress the inequalities in access to higher education and careers in the arts and humanities. It operates from a small office in Dalston with a handful of dedicated staff and a very modest budget. Nevertheless, it has provided one-to-one mentoring to 355 students from less privileged backgrounds, and unbelievable ongoing support via a network of nearly 4000 volunteers working in creative industries, education and the youth sector (their Alternative Old Boy Network) and a breadth of work experience opportunities that make even seasoned senior professionals envious. For a charity that started from nothing four years ago, it has achieved massive impact and has done it almost entirely on the goodwill and small donations of its grass-roots supporters.

In spite of AE’s size it has regularly attracted the attention of much larger organisations, because of its ability to tap into genuine popular feeling about how unequal things are in higher education and the arts. Today, the Director of AE received this email from Tate, an organisation with 344 times the income and resources of AE:

You are invited to join the first Routes In: Network meeting. Tate is setting up this network to share knowledge, skills and expertise around creating progression routes for young people. The network will involve a range of professionals working in the youth sector, education, training & employment and the creative industries. The network aims to bridge a gap between the education and the creative industries, and encourage an ongoing dialogue to support young people to transition into training and paid employment. You will have the opportunity to meet, network and learn from others to inform best practice. At the first meeting we’d like you to give a brief overview of your organisation or practice, in relation to progression routes for young people.

The Routes In: Network is part of a wider practice as research pilot project aiming to create more opportunities for young people from BAME and lower socio-economic backgrounds when entering Tate and the wider creative sector as young professionals. It aims to interrogate the institutional structures and barriers, which need to shift in order to support a diverse range of young people. The pilot will culminate in an intensive training programme and associated events for over 100 young people, steered and directed by young people, and focused on their personal and professional development. Routes In is a part of Circuit, led by Tate and funded by Paul Hamlyn Foundation.

Need I say this did not go down well in the AE office, or indeed with me as Chair of AE. It is incredibly disappointing that an organisation like Tate thinks that we will be glad to trot along, share our knowledge and expertise for free, and be grateful. We are not grateful. We are seriously annoyed.

Firstly, if you want to engage other organisations in a project, would it not be a good idea to talk to them about it before submitting a funding bid for the project? That way you might learn about what’s already being done, avoid duplicating it, benefit from the learning and research already underway (AE is actually part of a large AHRC-funded research project with academics at the University of Edinburgh) and not fall into the trap of reproducing yet another top-down model of ‘helping’ disadvantaged young people into the arts.

Secondly, did the Paul Hamlyn Foundation scrutinise the funding bid for this project adequately? Did they ask about duplication of effort, who will be your partners on this project, how do you know there is an appetite for this work, will it achieve anything, who else is working in this territory?

Thirdly, you are proposing to investigate institutional barriers to access, and follow that up by ‘training’ young people? Seriously? Can you see what’s wrong with that?

If the barriers are institutional, it is the institution that needs to change and address those issues. We are working hard to give young people from economically challenged backgrounds an equal sense of entitlement when it comes to the creative industries and further study. The things that mitigate against that are not a lack of ambition or aspiration or talent, but the air of privilege that large institutions transmit and that says clearly ‘this is not for you’. Tate needs to think hard about how to change that before they think about how to ‘train’ young people to navigate such exclusive, privileged terrain.

We don’t want this to develop into some kind of charity turf war, but we would like Tate to take seriously the impact such a large organisation might have on the work already undertaken by smaller organisations. We would welcome discussion with Tate that would seek to put some clear water between what they are proposing and what Arts Emergency is already doing, so that there might be some learning for both organisations and added value for the young people involved.

Shaun Glanville, Chair of Trustees

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