You can make the cultural sector fairer today

13 May 2021

Korantema Anyimadu, Arts Emergency Community Manager, writes about the work of Arts Emergency. The charity supports young people who are underrepresented in the cultural industries because of their race, income, class or disability, to turn their passions into sustainable careers. Read on for actions you can take to help.    

What did you want to be when you were 16? Is that what you’re doing now? Was your path straightforward or did it involve a few detours and hurdles? Who helped you along the way? These are the questions we ask ourselves and all our volunteers to help us reflect on who or what helped us get to where we are today.

Arts Emergency is a charity and network that helps young creatives turn their passions into sustainable careers. Whether they’re into museums, journalism, design or theatre, we connect them with a mentor who shares their passions and create cultural opportunities to help them get to where they want to be. We’re supporting over 1,000 young people who are underrepresented in the cultural industries because of their race, income, class or disability, in London, Greater Manchester and Merseyside.

Meritocracy is a myth

We do this because, when it comes to this sector, meritocracy is a myth. Those who believe most in meritocracy are usually the ones in power (aka white middle class men). Pervasive racist, ableist and classist issues exclude so many creative people, with figures barely changing in the last decade. Research shows that people working in the creative industries have limited social circles and are less likely to know working class people. The young people we support are shut out because they don’t have the luxury to work for free at an unpaid internship or to ask a well-connected family member for industry contacts.

We know that to make it in the creative and cultural industries you need to have connections, knowledge and confidence. This is why we provide up to eight years of:

  • local mentoring support to the young people who need it most
  • high quality creative and cultural opportunities and experiences
  • trusted and accessible advice about higher education and careers
  • access to our Youth Collective who are building a peer-to-peer support community

We also run workshops on topics including imposter syndrome, rights at work and microaggressions because the cultural industries are too slow at changing their toxic workplace cultures. It’s not young people’s job to be more resilient, it’s the sector’s job to be less harmful.

The hardest thing at the moment is making sure our young people do not bounce back out of the organisations they’ve worked so hard to get into. It’s not enough to set up entry level roles under the label of diversity if the culture in your organisation means those people aren’t welcome.

Actions you can take today

If you’re reading this, there’s a good chance you want to help change things and there’s no better time than now to act! This week, you can do two things on this list and you’ll have taken real steps to make a difference.

  • join our network and every month you’ll have the opportunity to respond directly to requests from young creatives who want to know about your field
  • if you’re a teacher sign up to our newsletter for schools (and if you’re in London, Manchester or Merseyside get in touch about mentoring for your students)
  • consider becoming a mentor (we recruit new mentors every autumn)
  • offer us work experience
  • offer us a paid work placement
  • donate to fund expert mentors, guidance and opportunities
  • advertise your entry level jobs with us (and read our advice on writing a decent job spec)

We’re seeing growing demand for our services, with three times more applications from young people this year. So, we’re growing the support on offer nationally to reach those who are more geographically isolated. Right now, we are hopeful and optimistic about the path ahead. We know that our big-hearted community is going to make real lasting change and that the young people we work with now are going to be the cultural leaders of tomorrow. We hope you want to be part of that future too.