Is the arts industry in Britain today 'a class thing'? There is a manifestly low non-white workforce in UK's visual and performing arts industry. Still the vast majority of those employed permanently or temporarily in British productions come from a white and middle class background.
According to leading industry insiders such as the multi award-winning composer Andrew Lloyd Webber, 'It is very concerning that there is a very noticeable lack of non-white performers in British productions'. In an attempt to raise awareness of this problem his Foundation - the Andrew Lloyd Webber Foundation is commissioning a report, led by Donuta Kean, to address the issue and find possible solutions. The current situation is so bad that it risks becoming a full-blown crisis of marginalisation and inequality. The arts industry needs to reflect the changing make-up of modern British society, which is turning increasingly diverse and multicultural and no segments of the populations should be marginalised - 'the arts are for everyone'.
New figures from the Department for Culture, Media and Sport show that the number of Black, Asian and other ethnic minorities performing arts workers has risen sharpl, y by 60% over the past five years. Around 19,000 non-white workers were employed in the music, performing and visual arts in 2015, compared with 12,000 in 2011. However, these statistics represent just 6.6% of the 286,000 people employed in those industries1.
Far more needs to be done to encourage and inspire young people to get involved in arts either by watching programmes or taking up activities from an early age at school, which will invigorate their interest and their willingness to perform themselves later on in their adult lives. Along with diversifying the school curriculum, the repertoire of productions needs to be modernised to reflect the changing times and new tastes, that are not necessarily all about classics.
There are some glitters of light. The US musical Hamilton, created and performed by an entirely non-white company, has had a huge success on Broadway, that is set to be mirrored in the West End of London next year. But sadly such productions remain the exception, not the norm in theatre.
The major challenge is the lack of opportunities for many talented young people from a working class background with a lot of potential to achieve great things and innovate the arts industry. This lack of diverse arts goes hand in hand with socio-economic opportunities. Many are marginalised in specific music genres such as RnB and Hip Hop or black music musicals.
The study conducted by the Andrew Lloyd Webber Foundation will examine the shortcomings of the hiring process of new talent, often manifested in the unconscious bias during the castings of performers and auditions. The research chief also points towards the all whiteness of backstage crews and lead roles.
As for the long-term future of the performing arts, there can be an unfavourable impact on the audiences as well. If people from ethnic minority backgrounds aren't drawn as viewers, the audiences will be predominantly white and elderly. And where would that leave the arts? Will it be a thing of the past or still 'a class thing'?