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Race Equality Commission concludes hearings with evidence from arts and culture sector

Both public hearings on Sheffield's arts and culture sector were held this week to discuss the racial inequalities within the sector and what’s being done to tackle them.

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Sheffield Town Hall.

Tim Green (Wikimedia Commons)

This week saw the final public hearings from the Sheffield Race Equality Commission, established in 2020 to gather evidence of racial inequalities in a range of different sectors. Evidence was heard from a range of organisations and institutions in the arts, culture and sports sectors across two sessions, with contributions from Sheffield Theatres Trust, Sport England, Sheffield Museums Trust and individual local creatives.

Racism in sport has always been an issue, but with the abuse faced by England footballers Rashford, Sancho and Saka after their Euro 2020 final loss, the conversation has found a renewed focus in recent weeks.

Speaking on inequalities in the sporting world, Chris Grant, Independent Board Member of Sport England and Chair of the Talent Inclusion Advisory Group, told the hearing:

"We need to recognise that sport still has a long way to go if people from all backgrounds are to enjoy the many benefits it brings. The Sports Councils have recently acknowledged this fact and expressed their commitment to driving racism and racial inequalities out of sport. Local solutions, based on sound evidence, will be critical, so I hope that other cities and regions will learn from this ground-breaking initiative in Sheffield."

The arts and culture sector is also an area that is steeped in racial disparities and inequalities. A common issue discussed at the hearing was the issue of funding, and how changes to structures and processes are needed to properly allocate resources to a wider and more diverse range of organisations and projects.

Another key area of concern was the make-up of workforces in large cultural institutions in Sheffield, with the majority of organisations accepting the fact that they were still predominantly white-led.

Recruitment and HR processes were commonly cited as areas that were works-in-progress in order to ensure diverse candidates were attracted to advertised roles. However, ensuring that leadership and senior roles also reflected a representative and diverse cohort of people seemed to be an area that many of those giving evidence were trailing behind on.

One of the commissioners posed the question to a representative from Sheffield City Council around why a white-led organisation, Ignite Imaginations, was awarded funding for a Windrush project a few weeks ago - a question which seemed to have been left unanswered.

Dan Bates, Chief Executive of Sheffield Theatres Trust, reiterated during the hearing that “culture should be accessible and available to everyone.”

Of the Theatre's work, Bates said, “We have made some positive steps forward, but also recognise there is still more we can all do and are determined to improve and drive out existing inequalities in the arts and cultural sector.”

Speakers also discussed some of the actions they’d begun to take to tackle racism and its inequalities, with both challenges and good practice, such as more diverse artistic programming, attempts at decolonising historical collections, and the setting up of a freelancer fund to support artists and creatives in the city.

With all its hearings now concluded, the Commission will assess evidence submitted across sectors and make recommendations for action to tackle the key issues. These are likely to include short and long-term measures that are needed to deal with systemic and structural issues concerning race, racism and racialised inequalities in Sheffield.

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