Co-creation and Participation Consultant, Natelle Morgan-Brown, reflects on the AMA's Inclusivity and Audiences Day, which is now in its 5th year of championing Equality, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) best practice from across the arts and cultural sector.
The day-long online event on Wednesday 10th May offered those in Senior or Leadership positions an opportunity to roll up their sleeves and dive into concepts and case studies to challenge and provide new perspectives.
Our Co-Creation and Participation Consultant Natelle Morgan-Brown attended the event alongside The Audience Agency’s CEO Anne Torreggiani. Anne shared our recent research into Everyday Creativity (commissioned by Arts Council England, in partnership with Centre for Cultural Value) which reflects on how cultural organisations can adapt to support people in pursuing their own creative passions and interests. In this short blog Natelle shares 3 frank and personal takeaways from the event:
- Use the Beginning To Prepare For The End
- Take Me To Your Leader
- Get Comfortable Being Uncomfortable. Again.
It's an early 8:30am start with fellow Nottingham-ite and self-proclaimed ‘accidental poet’ Ravelle-Sadé Fairman (though for me, 8:30am Zoom is equivalent to 10am in person time, so only a soft grumble was emitted) who introduces guests to our individual (and private) e-journals and guides us through active semi-meditation activities.
“Close your eyes and take a deep breathe in.
Then gently release.
What do you sense? Burnt toast? A mocha or fruit juice? Trepidation or excitement for the day?
Take another breath in.
Hold it for a count of 4.
I breathe, release, and realise I’m hungry.
Whilst I listen to the wellbeing prompts and pop some toast under the grill, I make a mental note to go outside for a walk during lunch to avoid the inevitable energy crash that will come when I close my laptop at 4:45pm. I get lost in thought reflecting on this ‘virtual hangover’ we’re all still experiencing post (?) COVID-19 yet at the very same time I feel grateful to be able to connect, learn and share at virtual events like this. As I butter my toast, I feel relief at being released from trying to focus on an empty stomach, or the fiasco* of travelling cross country on UK trains, or hurriedly nipping to the loo mid-conference only to find you missed the best speaker of the day.
I enjoy the journalling. It’s reminiscent of a 'learning and skills' a programme I led at Nottingham Contemporary, wherein I encouraged participants to jot down thoughts, feelings and responses over several sessions. It’s helpful to begin with a focus on reflection, especially when tackling what could be emotive subjects, and I suggest more of us incorporate it into our events/conference.
The Inclusivity and Audiences Day is aimed at Senior professionals and those in Leadership positions. Technically, I’m neither. I’m in the wrong place. I think. Maybe. Or not?
I have at least 15 years’ experience supporting and empowering Young People as a Youth Worker, and I first started working in the arts and cultural sector as a volunteer back in 2004 but I’m not a Manager or Director, a CEO or Founder. As I wrestled with my internal imposter syndrome, Nyasha Daley and Ravelle-Sadé Fairman expertly discussed how best to support inclusive and equitable staff wellbeing, sharing best practice examples. Somewhere towards the end, I’m slowly self-reassured by the fact that I too have been instrumental in leading similar initiatives and conversations in former workspaces including establishing a ‘safe spaces’ group with/for Black and brown staff. Is that Leadership? How do we recognise it when we see it? This reminded me of an article I came across in our digital archives when I first started at The Audience Agency just a few weeks ago. The post was written back in 2016 by our CEO who commented on the ‘From Them To Us’ programme which explored the role of leadership in creating more diverse audiences. Her writing highlighted an incoming wave of ‘cultural practitioners who lead in a distinctly inclusive way’, on a mission with little time for credential peacocking and even less for fears of criticism. So that’s decided, from here on out I will strive to embody a leader like a fear fighting peahen**!
In a move some may read as controversial and others will see as smart, I didn’t attend Anne’s session (Torreggiani; The Audience Agency CEO). I’ve been in my role as Consultant for a mere few weeks and figured I’d get many more opportunities to chomp the bit with Anne, so I entered the zoom room for the ‘Acknowledgement’ session with Nima Taleghan. What a fascinating and relevant conversation! Across two sessions, Taleghan shared this practice and helped the group look at how acknowledgement statements coincide with intersectionality and our audiences.
The first time I was presented with an acknowledgement was during the opening of an Australian podcast a few years ago and in 2023 more arts, cultural and heritage organisations are following suit drafting honest and accountable public statements. For anyone unaware, acknowledgement statements are written or verbal recognitions of an organisation's active or passive complicity and perpetuation of colonialist and structural oppression. They sometimes refer to historical contexts, funding systems or rightful land ownership and can be shared, without fanfare, at the organisations gatherings including at internal meetings and public events.
(Spoiler: it was an uncomfortable conversation). Immediately after we had all read though the statement no one spoke. I think no one wanted to put their head above the parapet for risk of ‘getting it wrong’. Then we did speak to each other, and it got a bit complicated. From my perspective, it was a courageous and obviously necessary conversation despite the ‘all lives matter’ left turn somewhere in the middle.
Taleghan did an amazingly proficient job to facilitate a provocative discussion, but why is it (still) so challenging for people to read, hear and discuss approaches to dismantling racist and oppressive systems in this candid way? If you’ve read this far in the hope of being led to an answer, I don’t have one. But why not brave the conversation about whether drafting an 'acknowledgement statement' might be something you want to consider for your organisation, at your next team meeting?
*I support the Unions in the UK rail strikes and industrial action.
** Peahen is a female peafowl. Males are known as Peacocks.