Power through Diversity

As Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra’s Changemaker, James Rose has begun preparing for his eighteen month traineeship with the orchestra.The project funded by Arts Council England will provide James, an artist with disabilities, the opportunity to create and direct a disabled-led ensemble, supported by a tailored leadership and management programme. The ensemble will deliver a series of performances and workshops supported by strategic partners engaging young people and adults with and without disabilities. Arts Council England founded the project with the aim to help increase the diversity of senior leadership in art and culture by helping to develop a cohort of leaders who are Black, minority ethnic and/or disabled by means of a targeted senior leadership training and development programme.

Please read on to hear about James’ experience so far:

Since being awarded the Change Makers funding from the Arts Council, Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra and I have started the preparation for me to start my traineeship next summer. As one of the Change Makers, I was invited to the Arts Council’s conference on diversity in the arts aptly called Power Through Diversity.  So, I leapt at the chance and went to Contact Theatre in Manchester where it was being hosted.

IMG_9392 - Please credit Hana Zushi-Rhodes, Royal Academy of Music.JPG

Photo Credit: Hana Zushi-Rhodes, Royal Academy of Music

The first half of the day consisted of mostly panel discussion. There is no doubt in my mind that everyone at the conference was committed to positive change.  I had an awareness of a potential pitfall which often occurs at these types of events and related campaigns.  This pitfall often consists of over-promoting particular social group (and their frustrations) without considering the best ways to (positively) engage the identified target audience needed to cause positive change.

There was an amazing array of entertaining speakers all delivering engaging and funny presentations. One person who stood out was the talented Jackie Hagan making a unique point through how she approached her presentation. She has one leg but her presentation was about her experience of social class; contradicting the audience’s voyeuristic expectations and reminding people that she has something else to talk about as well as disability – the class system.  She instantly introduces a subject with which most people are familiar and can relate, engaging the audience on a human level; crossing boundaries of social categorisation.  She later said in response to an audience members’ question that the content of any art form does not have to be restricted to the subject of the obvious social grouping to which its creator ‘belongs’.  This, I feel, is a powerful point for curators and artists to think consider as a part of their practice whilst maintaining integrity and genuineness within their work. And this is where a balancing act lies – using art as a form of self-expression to say something often personal whilst always being aware of your audience’s perceptions and reactions; paying close attention to the unsaid.

One of the reasons why I am so excited about my traineeship with the BSO is the opportunity to help improve the integration of people who have disabilities into the orchestral sector. I’m interested to see how the ethereal qualities of music will help or hinder audience’s abilities to accept wider inclusivity as the norm.

Solutions sometimes need indirect approaches especially when it comes to encouraging changes in perception and culture. Careful consideration of your target audience  (in the widest context) is, I believe,  key to achieving inclusivity resulting in organic diversity.

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