THE WORD Elitism - design’s forgotten pandemic

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As the cultural sector works at recovering from the effects of the coronavirus emergency, we urgently need to address exclusion and inequality. However, interior design is falling behind the rest of the creative industries, says Stella Gittins, co-founder and group director of The Accouter Group of Companies interior design consultants, which the government as well as the industry itself needs to address

The creative industries are a huge success story. In the year prior to the pandemic, arts and culture contributed £115bn gross value added (GVA) to the UK economy, and the sector was growing at more than four times the rate of the economy as a whole. Yet despite this impressive growth, the sector remains bound up in the past, tied to long-standing traditional ideas of exclusivity.

You only have to look at lists of the top UK artists, the actors chosen for panel events and the designers profiled in magazines to see that for a sector renowned for celebrating global culture and diversity, the arts are still ironically uniform.

There is no singular root cause to this. For as long as they have existed, arts and culture have been associated with elitism. This permeates into the present day, evident by the lack of accessibility to arts education, the need for influential networks, and often financial means.

The tragic result is that marginalised groups, such as people of colour, the LGBTQ community and women, face even greater barriers than most to pursue a career in the arts.

In recent years this issue has started to be discussed in the realms of art and theatre. Although the steps have been small, an increased focus on improving the diversity of these industries through increased funding, improved access points and better education are certainly a move in the right direction.

The same can’t be said for interior design. Last year the British Institute of Interior Design (BILD) launched its first ever diversity in design report. It found 78% of those working in senior roles in design were white. 79% believed they did not come from a disadvantaged socio-economic background and of the 18% who believed they have been discriminated against because of their gender, 94% were female.

Clearly, there is a diversity problem prevalent in this sector of the arts too, and it is disappointing that it has taken industry bodies so long to delve into the issue. Like all sub sectors within the creative arts, interior design can provide ample opportunities and career progression to anyone who gets a foot in the door of the sector, but there are currently far too many barriers to achieving this initial step.

Now the lack of diversity in design is gaining wider recognition, there is no reason why these shouldn’t be addressed. A huge amount of this comes down to changing public attitudes through increased attention and awareness, but the buck doesn’t stop with industry reports and discussion. Institutions, corporates and individuals with influence need to start making moves here too.

At Accouter Group of Companies, we have launched initiatives such as our mentorship scheme in which we partner our designers with trainees from all backgrounds, to offer assistance and advice at the outset of their career. What’s more, this year we are launching our first Diversity Awards to promote and celebrate the values of equality, diversity, and inclusion by rewarding individuals and trusted suppliers with the opportunity to be included in our projects across the world.

Interior design can only be truly representative of the world we design for if all companies, large and small, take steps to tackle diversity head on. Whether that’s through donations to charities dedicated to the cause, establishing scholarships or shows to give those with diverse backgrounds opportunities to promote and display their work, or increasing awareness internally, even the smallest of actions are better than none.

Importantly, this all needs to be supplemented by increased government funding to help institutions and governing bodies to dedicate the necessary resource to improving diversity. Post-pandemic, this is needed more than ever. Creative England estimates that the arts sector lost nearly £12bn in GVA in the crisis, and over 100,000 jobs.

The sad truth is that it is marginalised groups who will have been worst hit by these cuts putting the sector at a tipping point – one which can’t be ignored.

For interior design and the wider creative sector to be filled with talent from all backgrounds, abilities, ages and identities, action needs to be taken now. The government, corporates, industry bodies and influential figures must all come together to recognise the scale of the problem, drill down to its causes and take action to tackle them one by one.


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