‘There’s no diversity problem in the arts,’ my friend said. ‘As long as you’re middle class.’
Monday March 31, 2008
For the past 20 years, we’ve censored ourselves from thinking about class. In part, this is understandable: class became more complex in the 1980s, as the manufacturing base of our economy was ripped apart. This left a great gulf in incomes and social expectations, and a society even more divided than before. The Thatcher government told us class envy was pointless – that we should all celebrate the wealth of the few. Blair absorbed the rhetoric, and the nation, weary of the class battles of the past, seemed to welcome this. By the 1990s, to talk of class, to point out the massive divisions in our society, became an embarrassing, almost forbidden, topic of conversation.
I can’t help feeling, as we board members prattle away trying to ensure that we address issues of race, gender, disability and sexuality – all important issues – that there’s a great big elephant threatening to sit on the table and squash our sandwiches. I’m sure we can gradually achieve greater diversity among the board, staff, artists and audiences. But I suspect that, though diverse, we’ll all be as plummy as each other. Recent evidence suggests – and is corroborated by friends of mine who teach – that it is white, working-class boys who are falling behind in school. What future for them as audience or artists? To involve the least wealthy in our society in the arts: there lies the biggest diversity challenge of them all.