THE WORD Changing the narrative
Kate Danielson, programme director of the Jerwood Creative bursaries programme, on a crisis looming in bringing new talent into the sector that would ensure its future
Finding your way in to the arts at the start of your career can be a bit like trying to find a magic key. For talented young people from low income backgrounds, without the family networks to find the right openings or the financial support to do unpaid work experience, it can be a daunting, near-impossible prospect as they come out of university looking for their first job. Many will forego their dream, taking salaried roles in unrelated sectors when they can’t find their way in.
This is not only a personal tragedy for these young people but is doubly damaging for a cultural sector that has such a poor track record of diversity. The issues of diversity and fair access for all are not ones of policy- making and of being seen to “do the right thing” - they are now issues of survival for the arts. We need to be in a position to fuel creativity and invention, empower communities and explore different perspectives in the challenging times ahead so that cultural leaders in the future truly rep- resent our contemporary society. To do this we need to create entry roles and routes which are truly accessible to all, or we risk losing some of the brightest and best young creative minds forever.
Against this dispiriting back- ground, the Weston Jerwood Creative Bursaries programme has been working with some of the most inspiring organisations across Britain to create opportunities that are making a real difference in young people’s career chances. At its launch in 2010, the programme was the only graduate scheme to focus on the crucial need for improved socio-economic diversity in the arts workforce. This is still the case today. The first edition of the programme launched against the backdrop of, and helped to encourage, a changing tide of opinion about the validity and fairness of unpaid internships. Its second edition now closes against a backdrop we couldn’t have foreseen; that of Brexit and of a deeply divided Britain.
Since 2010, the programme has funded entry level roles for 84 talented recent graduates from low-income backgrounds in 75 arts organisations across the UK. Eligibility for placements is assessed through means- testing, measured using receipt of full maintenance grants during study. This means we are working with young graduates from disadvantaged backgrounds of less than £25,000 per annum household income; 30% of the last intake identified as BAME. To support them into their new careers, the Andrew Lloyd Webber Foundation Training Programme has been a key part of providing professional development and mentoring and ensuring the cohort of participations create their own supportive, lasting network.
The pilot yielded outstanding results. 90% of bursary recipients were employed in the arts at the conclusion of the evaluation, compared with 39% of the control group of unsuccessful applicants. Of hosts, 90% confirmed they would target less affluent applicants again, 60% extended their placement’s contract and 33% made the new roles permanent. Those statistics have been echoed in the second edition of the programme, which recently came to a close. It is these results that attracted private funders to join Jerwood Charitable Foundation to continue the programme – Garfield Weston Foundation, Andrew Lloyd Webber Foundation and JP Getty Jr Charitable Trust.
We feel highly optimistic about the future when we speak with participants, having seen their commitment, understanding and ambition. When Aaron Wright was appointed artistic director of Fierce Festival in Birmingham earlier this year, he was the first of the Creative Bursaries cohort to take an executive leadership role and is the youngest AD amongst ACE’s 670 NPOs. Others are creating dynamic freelance careers and their own organisations, such as Gemma Connell, artistic director and founder of The Artifact, based in Montrose, Scotland, and Rosie Elnile, working alongside designer Tom Scutt at Donmar Warehouse, following her year-long placement as Donmar’s first ever resident design assistant.
The Creative Bursaries will run again next summer and we are look- ing for partners to extend the reach of the scheme, with the aim of including an international training programme, influencing policy through new re- search and sharing what is learnt, and disseminating best practice in recruit- ing as widely as possible. If you are interested in collaborating, we’d love to hear from you.
Sir Peter Bazalgette, outgoing chair of ACE, said: “We know that in advancing a social agenda, its deeds, not words that count”. This programme is about doing; about making a positive and tangible contribution to the changing face of cultural leadership in the country. The Creative Bursaries programme cannot be another magic key. It can’t exist forever and it shouldn’t. What it can do now is identify and kick start the careers of talented AND diverse artists and arts administrators. These young people are the potential arts leaders of the future; those who in turn should be powerful advocates for the long term cultural change needed to achieve real, ingrained diversity.
Quite simply, I would never have got to the position I’m in now if it weren't for the Creative Bursaries.
If we are genuine in our desire to
see significant change in the make- up of our arts workforce - in our lifetimes - then we need more of these unapologetic interventions, in which Jerwood have led the way. It is the only way impactful change is going to happen. - Aaron Wright, artistic director, Fierce Festival
Schemes like [the Weston Jerwood Creative Bursaries] which embed diversity and difference in the work- force are the cornerstone of the future. - Daniel Brine, director, Cambridge Junction
Caption: Weston Jerwood Creative Bursary recipients at the Birmingham training day in June 2016. Image by Outroslide photography