Social Artists for Equality, Diversity and Inclusion - SAFEDI

Lead Research Organisation: Manchester Metropolitan University
Department Name: School of Art

Abstract

This fellowship supports social artists and people from under-represented communities to challenge the exclusion of both groups from the visual arts. Research shows that the arts are failing to reach people from the global majority, those who are disabled, excluded by gender/sexuality and/or those who are from lower socio-economic backgrounds, and the intersections of these characteristics. It also shows that the visual arts do not make use of the diverse talent in the UK and that artists who work with under-represented communties are themselves not properly supported.

The fellowship builds on the applicant's 2015 research into how social artists receive validation and extends and augments a new model of validation for social artists resulting from the applicant's research partnership with Axisweb (2017-20). Although social artists work daily with some of the most under-represented communities in the UK, their skills and expertise are under-acknowledged and the voices of community members under-heard in debates about visual art. The fellow and partners' aim to reposition social practice as lead champion of EDI in the visual arts. In doing this the ambition is to improve the cultural offer to under-represented communities in dialogue with audiences, develop satisfactory support for social artists and share learning with other parts of the visual arts sector.

The fellowship is urgent given current civil rights movements which have prompted UK cultural organisations to review their collections and policies to see if these reflect historical issues around colonisation and racism. This is highlighted in arts institutions, given their representational and symbolic power around definitions of civil society. Due to the covid-19 emergency, large arts organisations want to recover audiences through engagement programmes but do not have a set of guidance or criteria on ethics and safeguarding to help them achieve this. The fellowship recognises the urgency of these intersecting situations and sets out to bridge knowledge between social art / artists and the mainstream visual art world, to benefit both, making sure community voices are centrally repositioned, respected and heard in the process.

To establish ways to achieve this, six art projects in diverse UK sites will work with artists, people from under-represented communities and partner organisations to better understand barriers to culture and creativity. Creative outputs and outcomes from the art projects will then be reviewed against participating organisations' equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI) policies. These will be revised to reflect what has been learnt about communities' and social artists' cultural and creative needs. Staff from larger organisations will also take part, learning from the smaller organisations, artists and community members how to create 'evergreen' EDI policies. As culture and society evolve, policies on equality, diversity and inclusion will reflect these changes through a constant process of renewal.

The partners supporting the project are Axisweb (Axis), the national artists' digital membership charity with +5000 members and Social Arts Network (SAN), a UK-wide artist-led initiative, committed to achieving visibility and agency for the field of art and social practice. The Director of Research at Arts Council England, Andrew Mowlah, will also be involved, meeting with the fellow and team twice over the course of the fellowship to discuss progress and policy-related learning.

Publications

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