As usual since lockdown, I dived from one zoom to another this afternoon, both about the arts, both about how we ensure that this government money meant to help arts and culture right now doesn’t simply prop up the unequal and unfair status quo, but adds to the value we create, ensures that this watershed moment takes us forward in terms of inclusion rather than mires us deeper in this place of words not deeds, promises not action, that we have been for too long.

The webinar with Emergency Exit Arts was brilliant and strong and included these forceful words from SlungLow‘s Alan Lane:

“The best of our sector has responded radically to a drastically changing world. Those who have continued with what what they were doing before even though every part of the world has changed should take a moment to question whether they are responding creatively to anything.”

We were all making similar impassioned pleas for not just support for the arts but support for the arts to CHANGE, to grow, to be better. You can watch the whole thing here:

My own contribution was to suggest that if those who get this promised support do not make good on the promises of inclusion (the ones they have consistently not lived up to in the past decades) then they should give the money back.

But … when I left the last meeting I realised that I feel tearful. I am sad, worried, fearful for friends.

The people in these meetings and conversations, the many I now attend most weeks, are largely the already-often-excluded. They are disabled and Black and Asian and working class and neurodivergent and the ‘minority ethnic’ who are so tired of being lumped together. They are queer and they are the women who rarely get to lead (not right at the top) and they are young activists and older people who missed out on inclusion in the arts the first time round and are missing out again now.

They are all fighting so hard, under impossible conditions, not just for a status quo, but for genuine change.

I worry about the emotional labour of this work. I worry that if opening up means a return to the status quo, arts for the few by the few, then the young producers leading the webinar we just did with EEA will leave. Why would they stay in a sector that does not embrace them?

I worry that we are breaking ourselves trying to build a cultural future for all when the powers that be prefer it to be for the few.

The mental health toll is huge. We are tired and we keep going. We are ready to drop and we keep gathering. We are hoping for and working for an equal and inclusive future none of us has ever experienced. I am not hopeless about it – but I admit, I do have less hope.

Take care, my activist and campaigning friends. Let’s try to remember, hard though it is, urgent though it is, that small change can add up to huge change. You don’t have to do it alone. Please know your efforts are seen. I see you.