Elspeth Murray, 25 January 2015

I called this session because the recent correspondence/debate in the media between

Chris Bryant MP and James Blunt has raised questions about access, privilege, talent,

equality, entitlement, class, gender, education, and much much more as these relate

to arts and culture.

and I figured if I'm curious about these dynamics I bet others here are too. so …

(One of the shift keys doesn't work on this machine by the way so apologies for some

missing capitals - I have a lot of pages of notes for this report and don't want to be all

perfecctionist about it).

who came?

first I was joined by gloria and ilrish then a few more: bill jones, rob daniels, ayesha

casely-hayford, matt trueeman, paula varjack, nick cassenbaum.

Then we needed a new sheet of sign-in paper as more people came along (not all at

the same time but it did get big)

chris hallam, rosanna lowton, james stenhouse, simon bowes, dom gadski, annegret

marten, kirsty lothian, fiona whitelaw, natalie wilson, rebecca atkinson lord, alister

lowrie, jo crowley, jo mackie, jaye kearney, christina elliot, gemma paintin, ellie sharp,

alyn gwyndat, david julia, kate o' connor, brian lobel, steve whinnery, lorraine wood,

kevin stein, charlie kenber, gulerdana mir, sian rees, hannah lambert, rod dixon, sarah

allen, ben luke, emma cameron, chris wooton, billy barrett, natalie querol, rosie

spiegelhalter, robert daniels, anna cottis.

Broadly speaking (in case you don't want to read a long report) we discussed - and

recognised the need to discuss/reveal/untangle - privilege as an invisible and complex

set of factors - economic (opportunities for education, arts exposure/involvement etc),

social (contacts, attitudes, sense of status/worth), cultural (gender, class, race,

sexuality, ability) - that make it easier for some people to ‘make it’ in the performing

arts than others with the same level of talent, dedication, commitment, passion, etc.

“People seem to be going faster than us and we can't see that they're on invisible


We ended up talking about very broad economic, political issues around economic

inequality, lobbying for arts education and other policies that favour

equality/redistribution of access to the arts and fair pay in the performing arts.

Throughout the discussion were reminders not to take things too personally, to be kind

to ourselves and each other.

What follows is a transcript (modified a little to add clarity) of the notes I took.

- invisibility of privilege

- /how/ to talk about it? By talking about it - like this!

- try not to take it personally

- there's a lot to untangle

- Occupy wall street highlighted economic inequality, there are cultural aspects to

assumed power inquality too

- privilege is relative - if we have shoes on, have running water, 3 meals a day, we're

rich in global terms

- guilt is OK - it's part of a process of acknowledging the taken for granted advantages

we have had - and we don't need to dwell in guilt mode for ever

- an environment that fosters openness is good, that acknowledges others'

experiences and builds understanding

- perhaps the question should be “How should we LISTEN about privilege” rather than


- frustration with ‘playing poor’ (this was about privileged people in real life rather than

posh people taking on working class roles on the stage)

- inequality is there, we should tackle it

- there's an economic dimension to risk taking - you can be bolder artistically (more

often, for longer) if there's a safety net (money in the bank, family support, living costs

taken care of, etc)

- let's not get dualistic or too oppositional about this - there are lots of subtleties

- back to the HOW - what enables the openness we'd like to see?

- ‘faking it’ - back to attempts to seem more/less privileged

- the value of opportunities to experience first-hand how others live - getting out of our


- we can all feel hard done by

- this is HUGE and solutions for addressing it in the cultural/arts sphere may be very

different than solutions in the wider macro-economic/societal realm

- it's multi-faceted

- in the 1960s there were moves for policies to improve access to the arts and culture

- recent economic shifts have brought the issue up again

- private education is not a golden ticket to a sustainable life in the arts

- it's annoying when award nominations spiel include biogs full of theatre dynasty


- so what can we change?

- let's seek the courage to change the things we can, the serenity to accept the things

we can't and the wisdom to know the difference (heard that one before?)

- why not check the equal opps policies of our organisations and make sure that they

are meaningful, relevant, practical, honest?

- be aware of the aspects that these policies/legislation *don't* cover (grants,

contracts) and see how we can encourage more openness there too

- Irena grugulitz has written about tv/film relationships and the ‘it’s who you know'


- we tend to acknowledge the currency of skills more than social currency (he got the

job because he's good at xyz rather than because I like/know him)

- we hear conversations about what people *aren't* earning a lot sooner than we hear

about the backup strategies that people have - the safety nets are often unspoken -

the partner with a steady job, the inherited money that paid off the mortgage, the

bailout that funded the second degree, etc.

- people seem to be going faster and we can't see that they're on invisible scooters or


- we tend to lie about how we sustain ourselves

- privilege isn't written into the policies - it's harder to quantify or qualify than other


- it's about contacts and education

- it might be better if alongside acknowledging privilege we also acknowledge talent

- maybe we should count achievements less if someone has had a leg up

- but make a distinction between the input (valid time & talent) and the product (subject

to bias of privilege)

- we should be pissed off about talent not given the opportunity to take off, whether it's

ours or not

- there's a sense of entitlement that comes with privileged upbringing that fosters an

attitude of determination and resilience eg not taking no for an answer, re-applying for

funding, not giving up

- see it systemically

- the Bryant/Blunt thing is media-driven and promotes division and self-flagellation

- spend that energy instead on lobbying for change and for equality

- acknowledge thew complexity - education, class, attitude, geography, language …

- lobby for better arts education across the board - at all levels, equal provision

- stop tax breaks for private schools

- it's not about providing expensive education - getting early years provision right

makes a huge difference

- the problem is that drama is seen as a hobby and gets extracted from the curriculum

- giving proper status and respect to arts education/educators would be good

- we need to change how the story is told - we get it from a media owned by a handful

of billionnaires and the output has an embedded sycophancy towards celebrity and


- it's about confidence that can be nurtured

- since the fees went up drama school has got a lot more white and middle class

- getting to go to the theatre

- arts in the curriculum, participatory arts

- the school hall is seen as only for PE, there's no space in school time for the arts

- after school provision is where imaginations get stretched

- British people LOVE inequality - look at downton - we love watching posh people

have better sex than us

- drama in schools doesn't necessarily make for good theatre culture - fun palaces is

more the kind of thing we need

- build audiences - build respect for theatre

- theatre is waning not because of ticket prices but because it's getting shit

- the idea of getting people INTO theatre is misguided - take it out to people, give

people authorship over the experience

- theatre needs to not just one thing

- broader involvement in creating AND sharing work is enriching and exciting

- who steps back or steps down to allow better access?

- when creative partnerships (cce) was around I had a sustainable career - they

provided that without evaluating properly - what did we lose and now we can't mention

it to ace?

- let's get a Labour Green coalition

- Labour are boasting about maintaining con/dem cuts to arts

- this is a long term ideological battle - it might take 20 years

- we need a counter argument and long term lobbying

- unpaid internships

- it's an ideological attack from the government to undermine the arts, given the

benefits to the economy of arts investment

- check out Artist Assembly Against Austerity

- unfund Trident

- it's all about tax - go macro

- what can venues do when they're under pressure from funders and have a stream of

willingly unpaid interns?

- they shouldn't be taking unpaid interns cos that's actively preventing legitimate


- we've got to talk about livelihoods

- politicians kept their unpaid internship thing going for a very long time on the quiet

- it's about being busted

- “the path to truth is about learning to love being busted over and over again” richard


- in france they have a system for financing the arts with benefits during non-project

spells and an agreement about being willing to take on jobs you might not love

- people expecting not to be paid is a problem - let's face it, venues NEED shows

OK that was it. Please feel free to add your comments - you don't have to have been

at the session to do that, but I think you do need to register.

PS Later in the day I spoke to an American woman who said that the practice of

‘checking your privilege’ may have an unintended consequence of re-affirming

differences rather than promoting diversity - eg when saying, “I acknowledge my

privilege as a straight white woman” - are the opinions that follow weighted/discounted

or might they be granted more power - either because of the privilege itself or the

apparent cultural sensitivity that goes with admitting it? To be honest I haven't heard

this language too much in real life so I don't know. And how can you tell what the

effect of such utterances is? Complicated!


gender, film, tv, Drama, schools, tax, Funding, funding, venues, class, Media, policy,

power, entitlement, Theatre, downton, equality, Schools, education, Class, Power,

Investment, THEATRE, theatre dynasties, theatre, Gender, Employment, privilege,

Education, Privilege, disclosure, social capital, mortgage, media, inheritance, equal

opportunities, drama, Equality, bias, livelihoods, accessibility, inequality, disadvantage,

employment, awards, investment, internships, Policy, Internships, government,

Venues, Film, complexity

Comments: 4

Alyn Gwyndaf, 26 January 2015

Links to research on networks and convergence in Film/TV by Irina Grugulis, which I mentioned:

(Original item) http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b01l7wqh

(Responses & Follow-up) http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b01ljk4r

Alyn Gwyndaf, 27 January 2015

And some currently ongoing research, which seems interesting because it's looking at the qualitative narratives, rather

than simply top-level numbers:


Elspeth Murray, 27 January 2015

Thanks for these links, Alyn. Very interesting listening!

Bill Bankes-Jones, 16 September 2016

A year and a half on, it's really interesting to come back and read this. So much talk, SO MUCH, about “diversity” right now,

which seems to be interpreted as something very narrow indeed alongside many of the issues ventilated here.

Anyone aware of further developments in the discussion?