Pin It
White douchebag man

The creative arts are getting whiter and more middle class

A damning new report from the Warwick Commission says that diversity is plummeting in UK culture

Have you ever looked around at a gallery or a gig and thought to yourself, "Hey, everybody here is really white and middle class?" Maybe you haven't; you might be white and middle class yourself. Oh, and the music you're enjoying or the art you're appreciating? There's a high chance that was made by a white, middle-class person too. Also: he was probably a dude.

That's the situation according to the Warwick Commission, which produced a report on Tuesday laying into the UK's appalling lack of diversity in the creative arts. Over the past year, the public enquiry has studied every creative discipline going, from pop music and fashion to theatre and film, to determine where the country needs to improve to ensure the future of the creative arts. Vikki Heywood, the chair of the commission, told us that it honed in on a "concerning lack of diversity". 

The report states: "The diversity of the creative workforce in Britain has progressively contracted over the past five years in relation to gender, ethnicity and disability... Access to the opportunity for creative self-expression is currently socially stratified and restricted for many women, ethnic minorities and disabled people."

BAME (black, Asian and minority ethnic) creatives account for only 6 per cent of those working in design, 9.1 per cent in film, TV and radio and 6.7 per cent in music, performing and visual arts – despite the fact that they make up 14.1 per cent of the overall population in England and Wales. This underrepresentation becomes even more pronounced when you consider that BAME residents make up 40 per cent of the population in London, where many creative industries are located. 

But this isn't the only problem that the commission discovered: arts audiences are also becoming increasingly white and middle-class. As the Guardian puts it, "the wealthiest, best educated and least ethnically diverse 8 per cent of society make up nearly half of live music audiences and a third of theatregoers and gallery visitors". That means they disproportionately benefit from Arts Council funding – which is, y'know, meant to help everybody.

The situation is especially concerning, given that fewer and fewer students are taking up the creative arts. Between 2003 and 2013, there was a 50 per cent drop in students taking up design and technology at GCSE level, and 25 per cent for other craft-related subjects. (The report doesn't go into how these figures have affected arts at the university level.) "We do not wish to stray into speculation," Heywood tells us, "but the dramatic drop in the numbers taking arts and cultural subjects at GCSE does not bode well for the future."

If you've ever wondered why British TV is obsessed with period dramas, or why every actor these days seems to come from Harrow or Eton, or why you're interning with somebody called Cressida, there's your answer. The creative arts are stuck in a grotesque feedback loop in which an increasingly narrow segment of society caters to an increasingly narrow segment of society.

"(This) is not about forcing everyone to go to the opera, visit art galleries or take part in dance workshops, but about ensuring that they have the opportunity to live a rich creative life," says Heywood. "It’s about making sure that culture is relevant and representative and that everyone feels it is ‘for them’. If we don’t achieve this, then the ‘costs’ of failing to grasp our opportunities as a creative nation are deeply sobering."

"If the arts continue to be dominated by white, middle-class audiences and producers, we risk a diminished ability to unlock the creativity of future generations and a sclerotic range of cultural expressions across our many communities."

The report was welcomed by key arts figures, including BFI chief executive Amanda Nevill. "To succeed, we need to involve ALL of the next generation, not just some," says Nevill. "Talent is everywhere, but opportunity often isn’t, and the richness and depth of future success, creatively and economically, depends on us winkling out that talent no matter where it is."

Are you a creative who isn't a white, middle-class man who grew up in the home counties? Does this report ring true? Read it in full here.