Equality, Diversity & Inclusion

Posted on

by Sarah Gee

Our Chief Executive, Sarah Gee, outlines our commitment to EDI and what we’ve achieved in the last year.

In late February 2020, the trustees of Spitalfields Music approved a new business plan which placed ever greater emphasis on equality, diversity and inclusion.  Within a matter of days, 2020 took a very different turn, with the global COVID-19 pandemic highlighting lethal inequalities in society, and the horrific murders of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, amongst others, galvanizing the world to take the strongest possible stand on racism.

A quote from a blog written in early June 2020 by Arts Council England’s Chief Executive, Darren Henley, regarding Black Lives Matter, stuck with me: “talent is everywhere, but opportunity is not”.  Spitalfields Music has always been regarded as a learning organisation; a charity that has valued investment in staff, artists and communities, with a focus on social justice and community cohesion facilitated by the music projects we create, support and deliver.  We want opportunity to be available to all, irrespective of their personal histories, backgrounds, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, or socio-economic circumstances.

Last summer we showed solidarity with and support for the BLM movement, but said we wanted to be judged by the differences made through our actions, rather than simply statements.  Undoubtedly, we will have got some things wrong, and certainly our actions have not yet gone far enough, but we are nonetheless proud of the commitment of our staff and trustees to making lasting and systemic change.

Here are some of the steps we took:

1. Spitalfields Music publicly affirmed its commitment to equality, diversity and inclusion by applying successfully to join the first cohort of I’M IN, the classical music sector’s diversity and inclusion strategy tool. We have now completed the first stage of the programme, and anticipate completing it across 2021 at which point we will publish our bespoke EDI strategy.

2. We ran a board recruitment process, designed to diversify our board with greater emphasis on people from the Asian, African or African-Caribbean diasporas; people living with disabilities; and those based in, or with strong links to, East London, alongside a list of key skills established through a skills audit completed by sitting trustees.

  • In January 2021, we welcomed four new trustees to our ranks, as three stood down.  As we do not yet have as representative a board as we would wish, we will run a positive action programme in 2021 to support a more diverse range of applicants, with the aim of welcoming new trustees by our January 2022 meeting.
  • We will also trial a ‘shadow board’ project, designed to offer those without experience of sitting on a board the opportunity to observe our meetings over the course of a year, be trained in the basics of trusteeship, and to work with staff and trustees to understand the practicalities of governance.

3. We piloted new techniques in staff recruitment, including sharing questions in advance of interview (considered best practice in neurodiversity), widening our equal opportunities monitoring to include socio-economic background, and committing to the charity sector campaign to tackle pay gaps, #ShowTheSalary.

4. We made a commitment to diversify our pool of musicians and workshop leaders to be more representative of the demographics of the East End. This has brought new voices, musical styles and perspectives to our work, which is richer as a result.

  • For instance, the group of tutors gathered for our Skills Lab leadership training programme is larger than previously at 10 people, with a 50/50 gender split, 60% coming from outside of London, and with a greater variety of backgrounds and areas of specialism (eg accessible music tech, spoken word/rap, opera, non-classical).

5. We commissioned ‘thought piece’ blogs for our website, providing a platform to discuss issues surrounding diversity and inclusion: Rosie Bergonzi on the need for systemic change, Jessica Duchen on gender parity in the classical music industry, and S.I. Martin on the less recognised Black history of Spitalfields.

6. We resolved to prioritise people who experience barriers when we were recruiting to our Skills Lab training for music workshop leaders. In practice, this meant:

  • A review of the language and images used in recruitment materials to be more inclusive and accessible, plus the use of different advertising channels and delivery methods for sessions
  • This led to a more diverse pool of participants being recruited: 43% from minoritized communities (compared with 15% in previous year), one person with additional support needs, and two parents with very young children who wouldn’t have otherwise been able to participate
  • A far more diverse geographical spread of participants, thanks in large part to online delivery
  • Full bursaries being provided for five people who could not otherwise have accessed training, with the support of Help Musicians
  • Financial support for participants with care commitments and additional accessibility-related costs
  • Running two Skills Lab days outside of London, co-produced with partner organisations in Leeds and Bristol, with all sessions available online.

7. We ran eleven Musicians’ Support programme sessions across November and December, providing nine hours of group therapy, three hours of guided mindfulness and two hours of peer support.  Over half the sessions were led by people from under-represented minority ethnic backgrounds; we also built new relationships with two local charities – Mindapples and Mindful Music – and were joined by people from the UK, Australia, Germany, Italy and the USA.

8. We further embedded our commitment to diversity in commissioning and programming, as underlined in our membership of Key Change, in the December 2020 edition of Spitalfields Festival which was delivered online.  Highlights included:

  • premieres of works by eight women composers, under the title Fast Food, Fast Music and curated by Errollyn Wallen
  • a reimagined walking tour of East End led by the author and historian S.I.Martin, highlighting our area’s Black history and music, with special recordings from Chineke! Junior Orchestra, including the world premiere recording of Three Arabian Dances by the Black British 20th-century composer Amanda Aldridge
  • Largely forgotten Italian Baroque masterworks by Barbara Strozzi and Francesca Caccini
  • a short video about our inclusive Soundbox ensemble, featuring the personal testimony of a participant and their mother

Audiences were drawn from across the UK. For example, 40.1% of ticket buyers’ postcodes were outside of London, including Scotland, Wales, Newcastle, Birmingham and Leeds.

9. Finally, all staff have been involved in proactive discussions around EDI, which is a standing agenda item in weekly team meetings, and on every board agenda. Additionally, one member of staff chose to deepen their understanding of this area through specific diversity & inclusion coaching, which was described as “invaluable…really effective and definitely needed”, and others attended training on how to be an anti-racist organisation.

Watch this space for our full EDI action plan later this year – and please, tell us if there’s anything we should be prioritizing.