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Diverse Actions: Ambitions for diversity and equality aligning with excellence and innovation

Daniel Brine has recently stepped down as Artistic Director & Chief Executive of Cambridge Junction to become the Director of Norfolk and Norwich Festival.  Part Daniel’s legacy at the Junction is the establishment of a national initiative developing the representation of cultural diversity within Live Art practice.  Here, he shares the background and ambitions of the scheme…

Diverse Actions is a national initiative which is ambitious in building live art’s vital role as a practice of artistic innovation and a space to express complex ideas of cultural identity. 

Cambridge Junction has been awarded an Arts Council England Ambition for Excellence grant to lead Diverse Actions on behalf of Live Art UK, a national network, supporting and developing the live art infrastructure for the benefit of artists, presenters and audiences.

For Diverse Actions, LAUK chose to use the terms ‘diversity and difference’ to signify diversity in all its forms (as represented by the protected characteristics) and ‘cultural diversity’ to refer to Black and Minority Ethnic (BME) cultural identities. 

It is 21 years since the publication of ‘Let’s Get It On - The Politics of Black Performance’, a groundbreaking examination of issues of cultural identity and innovative performance practice (ICA, 1995).  It marked an important moment in contemporary performance and represented the practice of a wealth of UK theatre makers including Motiroti, Michael McMillan and SuAndi.  In her essay Catherine Ugwu, the editor, wrote:

“Struggles around difference and the appearance of new identities in political and artistic arenas have provoked powerful challenges to the dominant narratives of the modern world.  One such challenge – live art – embraces a broad church of overlapping and shifting aesthetics, ideologies and methods of production.  Live art’s very resistance to categorisation and containment, and its ability to surprise and unnerve, makes its impact far-reaching.  Growing numbers of black artists are engaging in live art practice, viewing it as one of the few remaining spaces available to express complex ideas of identity.” 

Live art traverses and enriches the edges of many artistic practices including theatre, dance and visual arts.  The members of LAUK believe the twenty-first century will see an increased blurring of artform boundaries and that this will be led by concerns, which – like live art - explore forms of practice; ‘liveness’;  duration; location/site; processes of creation; integration of technological tools; and relationships with audiences.  We do not see live art as at the margins of the arts but rather as central to its future. 

Ugwu’s understanding of the offer of live art as a ‘space available to express complex ideas of identity’ remains central to live art.  Our experience is that artists are drawn to live art because it enables reflection on both practice and concerns of diversity and difference.  We believe new voices gravitate towards new modes of expression and if traditional institutions and/or artforms aren’t ‘working’ for new voices (or previously unheard/excluded voices) they will create their own structures or break through elsewhere.

Arts policy has changed significantly since ‘Let’s Get It On’ and Arts Council England now champions the ‘Creative Case for Diversity’ which is:

“… based upon the simple observation that diversity, in the widest sense, is an integral part of the artistic process.  It is an important element in the dynamic that drives art forward, that innovates it and brings it closer to a profound dialogue with contemporary society.”

Like ACE, LAUK is committed to the principle of the Creative Case which brings art back to the centre of discussion and thinking on diversity. Like the Creative Case, LAUK’s ambitions for diversity and equality are seen alongside and integral to those of excellence, reach, engagement and innovation.

LAUK members have a wealth of experience in the development, commissioning, presentation and touring of live art.  LAUK offers experience in artist-led festivals (e.g. Forest Fringe and Buzzcut), independent producers (Wunderbar and Home Live Art); regional venues (Lancaster Arts, Contact and Cambridge Junction), and flagship festivals (SPILL, IBT and Fierce).  The ecology of live art means that larger organisations/programmes such as LIFT and BAC, work with others, such as Colchester Arts Centre and hAb, as seedbeds for practice.  This collaboration across varying scales of partners is a strength of the LAUK network.

Diverse Actions started in April 2017.  It is led by two Project Managers, Salome Wagaine based at Cambridge Junction and Afreena Islam based at Contact in Manchester.  The role of the project managers is to facilitate the work of the LAUK members.  Together the members will:

  • Attract, encourage and support a new generation of performance makers (professional development).
  • Enhance and deepen existing development and presentation opportunities for performance makers and in particular grow production and touring capacity in the regions (new work: development, presentation and touring).
  • Strengthen the national network for the development and presentation of live art and empower new leaders (leadership).
  • Stimulate and disseminate discourse and dialogue about cultural diversity and performance (legacy).

 

Already the members have offered opportunities for artists through DIY (http://www.thisisliveart.co.uk/opportunities/year/2017/) and leadership bursaries (http://www.liveartuk.org/activities/announcing-diverse-actions-leadership-bursaries-recipients-2017-18).  LAUK has also supported members to commission new work (http://www.liveartuk.org/activities/diverse-actions-2017-activities/).

Cambridge Junction is participating in Diverse Actions as the lead organisation but also as a commissioner of new work.  In our first project Harold Offeh is our 'Thinker in Residence'.  Harold is helping us think about cultural diversity in Cambridge and will publish a pamphlet on his findings in February 2018.  As part of his residency, Harold has hosted a series of gatherings enabling us to discuss our use of terms such as ‘inclusion’, ‘participation’ and ‘diversity’.  We’re working with Harold because we want to facilitate an artist’s provocation of the arts sector and cultural policy.  Harold brings a wealth of experience to this project including recently working with Wysing Arts Centre and Kettle's Yard

We are also one of the co-commissioners of Seke Chimutengwende and Alexandrina Hemsley’s new work Black Holes, which using spoken word and movement to recount the history of the universe; from the Big Bang through to the future death of the sun and the final disappearance of all matter into black holes.  Black Holes will premiere at ‘Watch Out’ in May 2018.

The legacy of Diverse Actions will be held by the practitioners who participate and benefit from the initiative – those new to live art and those who extend their practice.  We expect to see active leaders working within our sector; fired-up live art practitioners, skilled-up for the challenges of the future; and more work by artists, distributed more widely.  We will also see more organisations committed to and active in the support of artists from culturally diverse backgrounds – not only LAUK partners but those arts organisations in our extended networks.

By Daniel Brine


About Daniel
Daniel Brine is the new Artistic Director at Norfolk and Norwich Festival.  Prior to this he was Artistic Director and Chief Executive Officer at Cambridge Junction, a venue committed to performance, popular culture and creative learning that is up-and-coming and cutting-edge. Daniel has also been the Artistic Director and Chief Executive Officer at Performance Space, Australia’s leading organisation for the development and presentation of interdisciplinary works. Daniel also worked as Associate Director at Live Art Development Agency, the leading development organisation for live art in the UK as well as Co-Director of NOW Festival, a celebration of arts and popular culture in Nottingham. He began his career at the Australia Council, the Australian Government’s arts advisory and funding body and has also worked for Arts Council England.


Join the dialogue - What actions have you or your organisation made to develop your engagement with more diverse audiences? If you’d like to contribute to this dialogue with your own example, please contact us.

Posted by CAN network on 1st February 2018.