There’s a quote, often paraphrased, that goes “Talent is equally distributed, opportunity is not”, which raises interesting questions about equality vs equity. We see this time and time again at Creative Youth Network and we're keen to even out the playing field through innovative projects such The Courts - an enterprise centre to help young people set up their own creative businesses and develop their opportunities. 

Take the world of arts and creativity, for example, where diversity and inclusion is a particularly thorny issue, one which, to their credit, funders and businesses are keen to address. And no wonder – the stats are pretty dire. Only 18 per cent of those who work in the visual and performing arts sector are from a working-class background and four per cent from a Black, Asian or Minority Ethnic (BAME) background. When you consider that nearly half of the UK’s population is working-class and nearly one in five BAME, this is shockingly low.

This lack of diversity is not just an issue of social justice - it also has real commercial consequences. This sector relies on its creative output for its success. If this doesn't reflect the diversity of its audiences, or it's irrelevant to the experience of an increasingly diverse and global market, then its long-term sustainability is in question. 

How do we break the cycle? 

Many believe that equality is the answer – by providing a level playing field we will ensure everyone has access. This may be correct, but should we not consider addressing needs and barriers at an individual level to ensure that access is sustained and reflective of all?

Here at Creative Youth Network we know that young people’s potential is unlocked through meaningful professional relationships. By working with each young person on a 1-2-1 basis we can understand their individual needs and barriers to best support them and signpost them to the most suitable provision. It’s only by identifying individual needs that we can address inequality.

Think about your journey

I’ve been passionate about breaking down the barriers of access to the arts ever since my very first work placement at the Tate in St Ives after completion of my Fine Art Degree. It was a great experience only made possible by my own ability to self-fund the time, and because my parents encouraged me to take the opportunity. 

Here at Creative Youth Network we want to ensure every young person has access to high quality creative provision. From the young person who’s disengaging in education, to the emerging young talent, we want to provide high quality creative activities to enable young people to unlock their potential. But what happens when they reach the point of transitioning as professionals into the creative industries operating on an equality model rather than an equity one? Failure.

Young artists' journeys

Let’s take the journey of a young emerging artist from a care leaver background (a common occurrence at Creative Youth Network), and let’s call them Sam. At the age of 16 Sam meets one of our Creative Youth Workers at their supported accommodation whilst the worker is delivering outreach to recruit young people for one of the many creative courses we run. These are 10-week programmes to support young creatives to learn new skills, make new work and gain the Arts Award qualification.

Until this point, Sam was unaware that their ability and interest in film offered anything other than a hobby. Sam’s meeting with our Creative Youth Worker, a professional filmmaker, is the first encouragement they’ve had to explore their talent and potential in this medium. On the course Sam flourishes, and is encouraged to apply for the next step on our creative pathway, a six-month programme that enables talented young emerging artists to establish their professional career. We offer mentoring, employment, commissioning and studio space, all of which would ordinarily be beyond Sam’s reach. At the end Sam launches a short film, releases it online and receives a fantastic response. Now Sam is ready. They’ve been introduced to the sector, they’ve networked and developed links, and their portfolio is brimming with new, innovative work.

What’s the next step?

  1. Unpaid internship where Sam won’t be able to afford their new social housing as they’re now 17 and out of supported living?
  2. Unpaid volunteering as a runner giving Sam the same problem as option 1?

And both opportunities arise in London, so Sam needs to relocate, or travel and pay for temporary accommodation as well as accommodation in Bristol. And what happens if Sam does move to London temporarily, but in so doing misses a meeting with the housing officer who then decides Sam doesn’t need social housing anymore? This is all whilst Sam needs at least a 32 hour a week job to support his living costs. Can you see Sam’s conundrum?

Sam’s story is not an isolated case. What about the homeless person who wants to attend a theatre production or work in theatre, but the time of the shows is the same as the food banks on which they rely? What about the dyslexic person who needs to write a funding bid or tender to get the money they need to sustain their career? The list goes on, which means that the sector, consciously or not, is constantly providing barriers to those interested or talented young people who we and others are tirelessly trying to support in accessing the sector.

To truly diversify the arts and creative industries, and to reap the many benefits this will bring, we need to radically change the way the industry operates.

That is why we are redeveloping and reimagining the Old Magistrates Courts as a city centre space where emerging, diverse talent can meet and work with industry professionals. From hot desking together in offices, to attending workshops and masterclasses together, we will encourage meetings and engagement rather than emails and applications. There will be social events and free opportunities, and tenants will commit to providing access to their organisation through employment and paid apprenticeships to emerging artists from diverse backgrounds.

Our vision for the Old Magistrates Courts is to provide pathways and progression for emerging and diverse young talent into the industry, whilst supporting the industry to diversify access and support to engage, nurture and sustain emerging talent well beyond the current norm.  And all of this builds on the pathways we are already creating for exploring creativity and talent for young people from the age of 11.

For us equity of access to the creative industries is not a politically correct ideal, it’s a fundamental requirement if our arts and cultural sector is to continue to succeed over the longer term. But that’s just our view – let me know what you think.