It appears that concerns about how social class and wealth limit access to creative careers may be a hot topic of discussion in England these days. Via Artsjournal.com is a The Stage piece by Lyn Gardner addressing how the issue impacts theater professionals and via a Twitter post by Arts Emergency was an article about the same situation with journalism in England.
The latter article talks about a mentoring program called PressPad which provides people pursuing journalism careers two important assets- a place to live and a mentor from the industry. It appears these things are rolled together, with the young person living with their host mentor in London which is definitely not a cheap place to live. One person interviewed for the story decided to pursue journalism in South America because the cost of living was so high in London. PressPad also provides other networking and support services.
As has been mentioned numerous times before in regard to creative careers, the article cites one of the most important factors contributing to whether people are able to pursue a journalism career as coming from a social/financial background where family resources and connections allow you to pursue a career while receiving little to no pay and working unpredictable schedules.
Additionally, one of PressPad underlying goals is
“…trying to change the culture of the journalism community: “We have some really high-profile hosts – some topic editors and senior journalists in our industry. Where else would they meet a 19 year old, working-class white girl who has been on free school meals? They wouldn’t! The real thing is- it’s a two way street.”
On the theatre side, Lyn Gardner opens her article noting,
Just before Christmas, Arts Council England announced that from next year regularly funded organisations will be required to report not just on the gender, ethnicity, age and disability representation of workforces but also on the socio-economic backgrounds of employees.
Part of the motivation for this was the recognition that only 10% of theatre directors were from working class backgrounds. I recall seeing similar statistics about actors. There is push to reduce auditioning fees for training programs as well.
I had seen some implications that there might be penalties if organizations could not demonstrate representation among these categories, but it was never clear what this might be. It also wasn’t clear if there would be a standard set to ensure representation in jobs of higher authority and responsibility and not just custodial, secretarial and food services employees.
Presumably, there would be if the goal is to provide more opportunities to working class individuals, but I haven’t received a clear picture of what those standards might be. I get the sense from Lyn Gardner’s writing that despite welcoming the new focus on improving the environment for working class individuals, as with the journalism program, she feels a larger cultural shift is required.
If we don’t reinvent drama training to reflect the different needs of students from much more diverse backgrounds – and that includes those from disadvantaged socio-economic backgrounds – it’s like holding the door open so that they can get in the room, then blaming them when they leave quickly because they feel uncomfortable or can’t afford to stay.
When you change the intake of an institution – whether a training school or a theatre – if you don’t also change the culture, then it is not real change. Just as more diverse casting on our theatres’ stages is only virtue-signalling if it doesn’t extend beyond the wings into the entire building.
There are strong imperatives to hold the doors wide open, not least because if you widen the creative pool you immediately boost the creative possibilities. A huge advantage of bringing people from diverse backgrounds into theatre and training establishments is that they bring a new perspective, questioning rather than accepting the way things are done.
My perception is that in the U.S. we are having similar conversations about how large a factor family wealth and social expectations contribute to the success of people pursuing creative careers, but there is a lack of institutional mandate from governmental entities on the state or federal level. At this time I can’t recall any major, influential funders embracing something along these lines as a central policy initiative.
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