Build Back Better – What’s Your Pledge?

14 July 2020

As part of our series of blogs this summer about the pressing questions facing the arts education sector Basheba 'Bashiie' Baptiste (writer and producer), Belmiro Matos da Costa (activist and organiser) and Christy Ku (poet and performer), part of Sour Lemon’s creative  leadership programme, write about their experiences of facilitating roundtables for leaders in the UK creative and cultural sector.

The roundtables encouraged them to think more deeply about privilege and inclusivity, about the power each of us have and steps we can take to build an arts sector with inclusivity and social justice at the core.

Build Back Better - What's Your Pledge?

Honestly look around your table, if you notice that the majority of people there look like you, you have identified a problem. Is it your space? Is it the places you send out opportunities? Is it your own bias? Or do you simply need to venture into different communities and ask them how they would like to be connected with?

Over at Sour Lemons, we are disrupting creative and cultural decision making tables with exceptional leaders who happen to be underrepresented. Turning one sour lemon into lemonade at a time. 

Recently, as part of Making LEMONADE (our flagship experiential leadership programme), we hosted one of four unique roundtable workshops for Senior Leaders across the creative, cultural and social sectors. Our big question was; 

How do we unite the multiverse of our lived experiences within the art sectors, in order to drive social change, co-curate knowledge and create an accessible universe for growth?’ 

Inspired by the film ‘Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse’, we ran our workshop with a superhero theme. We all live in different variations of the same world - a multiverse - so how can we use our unique experiences to defeat our villains? Our workshop turned into a superhero training ground where we encouraged everyone to think about their origin stories and individual privileges. 

We invited attendees to consider the people who have helped them and are their personal heroes. We then asked them how they were becoming the superheroes they admired. Our workshop also encouraged attendees to share what formed their kryptonite - their limitations, fears and internal biases - and to visualise who their villains were.

When we were designing our workshop, we wanted to create an open and safe space for discussion, exploration, to get uncomfortable and to ask difficult questions. Our workshop guided them on a journey in order to realise their power and ask them how they can send that power back through the glass ceiling - and to smash it.

We wanted everyone to leave our workshop with at least one pledge that we will hold them accountable to. These conversations are particularly relevant now as we are at a critical point in history. COVID-19 has devastated the arts sector.The Black Lives Matter movement has been working to dismantle repressive power structures and they are finally being heard louder than ever. It is now time to rebuild with inclusivity at the core.

We received an incredible response, with participants saying it was the best workshop they’d been part of since the beginning of lockdown. We also received emotional responses as participants began to realise the impact of their work and words, with some taking action immediately - like asking us to do this blog post -  and revealing responses like this one:

‘The workshop helped me connect the dots on what I already knew (I benefit from a lot of privilege. I have the power to change things in my working life) and gave me space to think clearly about the practical ways I can use my privilege and power.’

One of the key things we learnt was that we’re all afraid - no matter our seniority, years of experience or level of influence. We’re all insecure in our abilities and knowledge, of being wrong or doing the wrong thing. 

We all want to make change but we forget the individual power we have on a day to day basis, as well as on a larger scale. Whether it’s the language we use to talk to others and ourselves, or wider plans and schemes that we have the power to create and implement. It’s important to remind ourselves of the impact we can make and have already made, both positive and negative. 

One of the wonderful things about our experience of running these roundtables was that Sour Lemons trusted us to deliver these workshops independently. The team believed us to be young leaders who were capable of making an impact and gave us the opportunity and consistent support to do so, believing in us until we believed in ourselves. 

In the current political climate where systemic racism is becoming less and less discrete, institutions and organisations have to take responsibility for their part in perpetuating systemic racism. It is crucial to rebuild and become anti-racist. 

Currently diversity in the arts and cultural sector is limited to entry level jobs, or more commonly gender diversity in the form of white women. Meaning that the senior and decision making roles are monopolised by white men and women.The 2018-2019 diversity and data report by the Arts Council England stated that the total percentage of Black Minority Ethnic (BME) representation in their National Portfolio Organisations (NPO) workforce is just 11%, This includes 10% at CEO level and 15% across all boards. 

There is statistical research to show that an organisation thrives in engagement and revenue when their senior leadership team is culturally diverse.

But inclusivity only comes when we work together to bring people to the table.

Each and every one of us are capable of making change, and we are not alone in our changemaking. Together, we can work together to dismantle systemic injustice and rebuild with inclusivity at the heart.

So our question to you is: how are you working to build back better? What is your pledge to dismantle systemic injustice and rebuild with inclusion at the heart?

To see the full list of pledges made by attendees, please visit the Sour Lemons website here.


Sour Lemons is a charity addressing the lack of diverse representation in leadership within the creative and cultural industries. Making LEMONADE is our flagship programme for young leaders who have experienced a ‘sour lemon’ or two in life. It’s not enough to only focus on the individual making lemonade though; our Enabling Environments strand exists to interrogate systems of oppression and put the responsibility back on to the organisations to change – not the individual. Our young leaders are at the heart of everything we do and Bashiie, Bel and Christy are an example of what happens when you make space at the table. Who is sitting around yours? 

Image credit: Francis Augusto