How you can support more young people from working class backgrounds into the cultural workforce.

November 20, 2019

In 2018 the Panic! It’s an Arts Emergency research project exposed the profound lack of class diversity and social mobility in the creative and cultural sectors. Arts Emergency, a key partner in this project, are working hard to challenge the current status quo, supporting young people from working class backgrounds into the sector. Maya Sharma spoke to them to hear more about their valuable work

Who are Arts Emergency – why do you exist and what do you do?

Our mission is to help marginalised young people overcome barriers to participation and success in higher education and the creative and cultural industries. We’d like to think of ourselves as an open access alternative to that ‘old boy’ network that dominates arts, culture and politics!

We support young people without connections to pursue the arts and humanities in higher education, and to find a way into those really hard to crack industries like publishing, art, fashion, theatre, film and journalism.

We do this through mentoring, work experience, free tickets to all kinds of events, behind the scenes visits and even opportunities for training and paid internships. It’s all sourced through our volunteer network of seven thousand people who already work in the sector The most important thing is that we support people young from the age of 16 until they are 24 - it’s a real long-term support network and source of opportunity.

Why is this necessary? What do you think are the key barriers to young people from working class backgrounds?

We know from the Panic! research project with the Universities of Edinburgh and Sheffield last year (link here) that there is less social mobility in the cultural sector than any other sector. The chances of breaking through as a working-class person have remained the same for over 30 years. Young people from privileged backgrounds are four times more likely to make it into the creative industries compared to their less privileged counterparts.

Those with most potential are often less able to justify the cost of an arts or humanities degree, or work for free when starting out, or know people in creative and cultural jobs already who might help them on.

How can people support your work – what are your future priorities?

First of all, we’d love The Learning Diaries readers to consider supporting Arts Emergency by joining our network. Through this network, we offer lots of ways to support our young people in a range of ways, including:

  • Acting as a mentor (we offer training for this)
  • Providing work experience
  • Offering free tickets to plays, exhibitions and events
  • Offering paid internships, jobs and training opportunities

Another really direct way to help is to set up a monthly donation of £5 or whatever your equivalent of this would be. We know our young people need sustained support rather than short term projects and your donations enable us to provide this regardless of project funding.

What can we all do to make the sector more welcoming?

Other than supporting Arts Emergency, what are the top actions that people working in the sector can take, to make the cultural sector more welcoming to young people from working class backgrounds?

  1. Be generous. Now be more generous. Share your privilege. We believe that no matter what you’ve achieved, somebody helped you get there and we believe it’s on all of us to give a little back. So, think about how you can share your time, contacts and expertise with a young person who might need them!
  2. Read and share the Panic! report. The Panic! report highlights that, despite the way the cultural sector views itself (as a liberal and tolerant sector built on merit), it is actually more socially exclusive than any other sector. The more the sector is willing to challenge itself – and the data in the Panic! report soundly challenges us! – the more we more likely it is that change will happen.
  3. Consider (and reform) your recruitment practices. What are the recruitment practices at your workplace? Do you rely on unpaid interns? How can we make the most of young people with talent but no contacts or familiarity with the sector? Our research highlighted a lack of awareness of structural disadvantages by sector leaders, and those are the people who employ people and decide what kind of culture gets made. Advocate for fair policies where you work so that young people have an equal chance to get their foot in the door. Our sector will be richer for this. The Audience Agency has actually recently produced a Roadmap that can help get you started.
  4. Remember to be hopeful about change. As we say in our manifesto: The future is another place. Allow yourself to believe a better life is possible.  Say it loud, defiantly, to everyone. 

Featured in the November edition of The Learning Diaries. Aimed at those working in learning, engagement or participation in the cultural sector, this newsletter will share updates from our team on sector events, ideas from some of our projects and links to new research. To receive The Learning Diaries, visit the sign up page.