Disability in the Creative Sector

20 March 2018

One in five people in the UK have a disability, which is a total 13.3 million people according to leading disability charity, Scope. Yet, somehow, there’s still the ever-present argument that it’s treated as a ‘niche’ market in many workplaces and heavily under-represented in the media.

The creative sector in particular has made great strides to change this and lead the way when it comes to inclusivity. Just think about the ground-breaking set of adverts by Maltesers back in 2016 – it was a clear lesson to other companies about how representation in the media should be.

Tackling Under-representation in the Arts

A recent Arts Council report revealed the lack of diversity in those employed within the arts in the UK, particularly in the theatre. They commented that BAME and disabled employees are “significantly under-represented” in the arts workforce and progress must be made in this area.

To put this in perspective, just 1% of employees at the Royal Shakespeare Company and Chichester Festival Theatre were disabled and 3% at the National Theatre.

As part of an equality strategy, organisations funded by the Arts Council are required to develop action plans to help diversify not only their workforce, but also their leadership and audiences too. However, there’s still a lot of work to do, with a large gap between the aspiration and what’s being accomplished.

So where can we look to for some tips in good practice? Those in leadership positions can play a major role in helping enact change. Currently 6% of artistic directors, chairs and chief executives are disabled and although this number needs to grow, it’s a good starting point to encourage better diversity.

Another key way to tackle this imbalance is through awareness. By publishing meaningful diversity data, there’s a compelling case for addressing the clear lack of equality and diversity in the arts. It even just shines a light on the need for more mobility solutions that will enable a whole new audience to be able to access these artistic spaces easier.

Inspiration from Leading Disabled Artists

For some inspiration, let’s take a look towards leading disabled artists who have broken through the diversity barrier and are succeeding in the arts world.

The commissioning programme, Unlimited, is an inspiring example of inclusivity in the arts. It supports creative projects from disabled artists and companies, with projects in theatre, dance, music, literature, performance, painting, sculpture, photography, installations, films and more.They’re fighting for better representation of disabled artists, by building a community of artists and changing perceptions in the UK and around the world.

Last year, they funded a series of research and development projects that stretched to India, Japan, Singapore and Palestine. Notably, artist NoëmiLakmaier’s piece, Cherophobia, a 48-hour live durational performance, explored ideas of happiness and immobility as she was suspended in Sydney Opera house from 20,000 helium balloons.

With calls for better representation in the arts world, we’re hoping the number of disabled contributors and employees in the creative sector will grow. Although there’s still some way to go, there are action plans and unique schemes in place to champion more diversity.

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