Federation Diversity Spotlight: Amanda Parker on unlocking peer-centric inclusion in the Arts

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May 14, 2021

Words by Angelica Bomford

The past twelve months has seen a spike in anti-racism campaigning all around the world. Organisations and the people who lead them are waking up to the importance of nurturing safe, inclusive spaces and engagement for all creatives, regardless of background or heritage. Despite positive moves undoubtedly being made, there’s still a great deal of work to be done.

In this Diversity Spotlight piece, we speak to seasoned broadcaster, trained dancer, avid creative and cultural consumer, and Founder of Inc Arts, Amanda Parker. We talk about what inspired her to start the collective of ethnically diverse talents in the arts sector workforce, and learn more about the Unlock anti-racism toolkit Inc Arts has just launched to help make organisations “more accountable and embed positive change”.

Fed: Can you paint us a quick picture of your career so far?

Amanda: My career has been an illustration of what happens to so many other people in the sector from underrepresented and marginalised backgrounds like mine. I was the first person in my family to go to university and studied English at Oxford. I was awarded a distinction on my postgraduate journalism diploma and then went into the BBC on a fast-track producer scheme. I’ve gathered a fair amount of experience in different roles from leading and creating campaigns, to TV programmes development and production: I’ve done a fair number of very different jobs! What I’m doing now feels like a culmination of all the stuff I’ve learnt along the way.

At the same time, in the same person, in the same story, I’ve experienced untold numbers of assumptions, micro-aggressions, and lack of belief in my abilities, as well as a lack of promotion. Inc Arts interrogates the experiences of people like me in the workplace, and I’m actually grateful for the at times very painful learning. The narrative received at our mother’s knees, that people from underrepresented and marginalised backgrounds like mine have to work twice as hard absolutely rings true to me. Everything I’ve experienced – from the highs of winning awards to the lows of non-inclusive behaviour – has helped me to contextualise through business practice: what can I learn from that, and how might that situation be improved?

Fed: With your background in TV and radio production, how have you seen diversity and inclusion in the creative industries change over the last decade?

Amanda: I’ve worked as a radio journalist, and I’ve worked as a TV producer; I’ve had stints in presenting and directing; I’ve worked in news, I’ve worked in arts development programmes. So, I’ve had a fair chunk of time in various different bits of public-facing broadcast production. What has been a common thread throughout is that diversity on-screen supports the narrative of inclusion but doesn’t necessarily transform off-screen progression on inclusion. But what has been really exciting over the past few years is the role of behind-the-scenes talent production leadership.

People like Shonda Rhimes and Karen Blackett are game-changers, and they’re far from being the only ones – these are people who have demonstrated the change by just being phenomenal leaders. That’s the shift I’ve seen: in the last 5-10 years, there’s been slow but steady (and I hope an increasing) stream of ethnically diverse talent in leadership and authoritative positions, who are not helping a programme or production seem diverse by being on stage. It’s that all-through development that I find really exciting.

Fed: Can you tell us more about Inc Arts?

Amanda: It stands for inclusion in the Arts sector. It also stands for incredible people in the Arts. Beyond the semantics, it stands for championing the creative, contractual and economic rights of ethnically diverse people who work in the creative and cultural industries. Specifically, we do research that is peer-centred; our research is about, by and for people whose experience of racism is lived experience. We centre these diverse narratives because our work springs from their collected perspectives and the thousands of experiences of the people who’ve gone before.

We advocate using this research, and we’re big fans of evidence-based data because I think that for some people, the argument around hearts and minds is not enough. Some people need the cold hard facts. We provide fellowship. We run sharing spaces. We do collaborative consultancy with a lot of organisations to help them become more accountable and embed positive change. We run the best Zoom meetings ever, full of activism, focus, knowledge-sharing and intelligence-gathering. It’s a very safe and supportive space.

From the collation and investigation of so many people’s experiences, Inc Arts offers the sector something that is both passionate and dispassionate. It also offers the sector an objective view of how we can create a place of welcome, a place of support, and a place where everyone can do their best work. We call it the ‘Inc Arts family’ and it really is like a family.

Fed: Can you tell us more about the Unlock anti-racism tool-kit you’ve just launched?

Amanda: Last year, we did an anti-racism conference for the creative and cultural sectors, which attracted 3,000 people attending. We were able to gather 8 hours of testimony from black, Asian, and ethnically diverse people working in the Arts sector. It was incredibly hard thing to do and it took its toll on all of us but it helped many organisations to understand how racism manifests itself, how non-inclusive practices perpetuate harm, and it also helped people move towards a place of action. It made people ask: what can I do to make a difference?

One of the things that keeps coming up across all of the statements, all of the manifestos and all of the recommendations from people with lived experience of racism is a need for transparency of process and accountability. We need more clarity around where the buck stops and who is taking responsibility. We combined these elements with confidentiality and trust to create Unlock.

Unlock is an accountability framework that has collated all of these recommendations – whether it’s manifesto, demand, open letter – and turned them into measurable actions. It’s not about calling out; we are not a call-out space. We’ve created a space where organisations can go to find out what peer-created suggestions look like, set themselves some actions, and create a timeframe for doing those actions through a process which stays entirely confidential. It’s a helpful guide for organisations with lots of legal and HR advice built in, listing 100+ actions people can take to make their spaces more inclusive. It provides a great way to track progress as organisations move towards best practice in inclusion.

Fed: How do you think the anti-racism campaigning that happened throughout 2020 will impact attitudes towards diversity in the creative and cultural sectors?

Amanda: I’m very concerned about the conversations that are taking place at the moment off the back of the Racial Disparities Commission’s findings, and the conversations that are going on around policy and engagement with heritage and historical narratives. I’m very concerned that there are conversations going on that actually have an adverse impact on ethically diverse people – but that don’t include representation from that group when shaping policy.

It’s important to have a diverse perspective in the room from those most at risk of harm from any change in government policy.

I have a real concern that the Racial Disparities Commission may have a negative influence on the work in understanding and realisation that many people have engaged with over the last year. That is a cloud on the horizon, but I hope that my fears are proven wrong. I hope that the sector will stay open-minded, enlightened, curious, and positive.

To access the free Unlock anti-racism toolkit developed by Inc Arts, head to www.incartsunlock.co.uk.