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The importance of enabling relevant, outstanding, inclusive and diverse arts practice by Wac Head of Dance, Ingrid Mackinnon

[Photo credit: Ingrid Mackinnon Wac Arts. Image by Gabriel Mokake]

As the Arts Council reveals its intention to fund arts and cultural activity based principally on how relevant it is to audiences, Wac Arts invites audiences to participate in a panel discussion to explore what it means to enable relevant, outstanding, inclusive and diverse arts practice. Wac Arts celebrates 40 years of providing opportunities for young people to engage in high quality training and participatory arts. Ingrid Mackinnon (Head of Dance for the fulltime Diploma in Musical Theatre at Wac Arts and movement director for First Encounters: The Merchant Of Venice, Royal Shakespeare Company) talks to Run-Riot about the significance of this.
You need to invite people in, allow them to sit at the table and then when they speak you must listen. Actually listen, and not just head nod while simultaneously ticking diversity boxes. I mean as a black female movement artist the amount of diversity acronyms alone used to describe me are frightening and only serve to marginalize me further. Many times I am the only POC (Person of Colour) or BAME  (Black Asian and Minority Ethnic) person in the room and people feel like they need all of those letters to identify me as the human being that I truly am.  I understand that historically these terms are used to identify a collective group that have been otherwise oppressed, however, I believe it’s beginning to have a negative effect on the wellbeing of the group it was used to initially protect. Then, to add insult to injury, as an artist I must prove my relevance and not just my artistry by whether the culture that I represent is currently relevant. I am not a flavour of the month or a cultural trend that should be used to bolster an arts funding application. I am always relevant because I exist, as are each and every one of you who might be reading this.


[Photo credit: Wac Arts Workshop. Image by Rosie Gold]

There are institutions that decide whether they need more or less POC or BAME folks in the room, the same way one decides if they want more pepper or salt in their food.  Sometimes, those in privileged positions are unaware of the dangers (real damage) that results from offering false hope or paying lip service to diversity and true inclusive practice, putting a few of us in the room but with no real power. I am pleased to see there has been a shift, we are coming around to making creative ecologies that actually reflect the world we live in but the progress has been slow. Those of us who live in the margins, do so daily. It is a lived experience. My personal intersections as a straight, black, female, born and raised in Canada mean that I constantly navigate many varied landscapes as a movement creative. Too black, not black enough, not queer enough, the list goes on.

Basing my artistic relevance on my cultural representation seems a little bit like discrimination to me but I recognize that this is a bit of a swear word in certain circles, so maybe I’ll just leave that there for reflection. However, here’s the thing, the whole system in which we live is based upon systemic discrimination, institutionalised racism and at the core of it all, fear. Fear of the unknown, fear of the ‘other’ and fear of losing control, all contribute to keeping people/artists in the margins who have protected characteristics. When we can begin to have conversations in which everyone who is at the table is regarded as equal (and not simply adding a few acronyms to the mix, like seasoning to make the dish appear spicier), amazing things happen, we become human beings who discuss the relevance of creating art that reflects all members of it’s community, 365 days a year.  

On Friday 26th July 2-3:30pm, during the Wac Arts Weekender (WAWA), a panel of respected arts and cultural leaders will convene to discuss what it means to create an environment that enables everyone to access the arts. Please join the conversation; we need everyone’s voice to continue the work. For more information, head to www.wacarts.co.uk.

[Photo credit: Wac Arts Students. Image by Marcus Hessenberg]

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