The Creative Case for Diversity: a beginners’ guide by a beginner

A man ,in a red top, stands looking at three paintings on a wall.
Southbank Centre's Unlimited Festival, photo by Rachel Cherry for Unlimited

The Creative Case is integral to everything we do at Unlimited and our mission to embed work by disabled artists within the UK cultural sector, reach new audiences and shift perceptions of disabled people. A few weeks ago Unlimited Trainee Simon Overington-Hickford went to Leeds to find out all about it.

I’ve been with Unlimited for a few months now; I’m learning more about our Main, Impact and International programmes every day. I’ve met some of our current commissioned artists and I’ve started to get out and about to see some great quality work (my personal favourites have been Wendy Hoose and Grandad and the Machine). Whilst I’ve got to grips with a lot of things, I’m still far from an expert and there has been one thing that has popped up on a regular basis during my time with Unlimited that was leaving me rather puzzled: the Creative Case for Diversity. What is it? What’s it about? Why does it matter?

Wanting to enlighten myself, when an email pinged into my inbox inviting me to Leeds to learn more at the Creative Case North event I decided it was too good an opportunity to miss and I went along. It was an informative day, full of energy that was quietly confident in what had been achieved so far but frank in its recognition that there was still more to be done.

If you are new to the Creative Case (or just want to refresh your memory), with my L-plates firmly secured I’ve done my best to sum up its key aims below – a sort of beginner’s guide… By a beginner.

Launched in 2011 by our main funders Arts Council England, The Creative Case for Diversity initiative is engaging the arts and culture sector nationwide to reinforce the importance of diversity in art, arts leadership and audiences that accurately reflect the whole of our current society. This means actively growing opportunities for minority and marginalised people.

The Creative Case for Diversity Within Art and Culture has three key components at its heart:

1          Equality

A continued drive for equality is imperative to remove barriers in the art world, releasing and realising potential and helping to transform the arts so that they truly reflect the reality of the diverse country that we have become but still do not fully recognise.

2          Recognition

There has to be a new conversation that attempts through various means to resituate diverse artists, both historically and theoretically, at the centre of British art – whether that is the performing arts, the visual arts, combined arts, music, literature or film.

3          A new vision

We need a new framework for viewing diversity – one that takes it out of a negative or ‘deficit’ model and places it in an artistic context. Diversity must become not an optional extra but part of the fabric of our discussions and decisions about how we encourage a resilient, energetic, relevant, fearless and challenging artistic culture in England and the wider world.

That’s a basic outline of its key elements but the important reasons are many, varied and nuanced. In depth resources can be found on the creative case website.

Finally I want to share an experience that left me confused within what was otherwise a positive day: I was chatting to a participant at the start of the day over a coffee and as part of the icebreaker activities we were asked to tell each other why we were at the event. I don’t wish to be negative but my icebreaker partner’s response did puzzle me… They said that they were not sure why they had come as they did not feel their organisation needed to ‘do’ diversity. Although taken aback, my hope is that the insightful discussions and case studies we were party to may have changed their mind because, after all, the creative case is built upon the simple observation that diversity, in its widest sense, is an integral, vital part of the artistic process. It is an important creative element in the dynamic that drives art forward, innovates it and makes it profound, exciting and relevant within contemporary society.

My simple reply to the diversity doubter is: well who doesn’t want that?

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