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Celebrating Culturally Diverse Organisations in the Arts Council England National Portfolio

We need more arts funding, not less, to make sure that a career as a musician is available and accessible to everyone.

Photo ofJohn Shortell
By John Shortell Published: 14 December 2022 | 4:25 PM Updated: 14 December 2022 | 5:11 PM
Speaker panel discussions at the MU Members' Conference 2022
Representatives from Black Lives in Music and Attitude is Everything took part in MU Members' Conference in October 2022, discussing how to create an inclusive music industry. Photo: Musicians' Union

Arts Council England (ACE) funding cuts to organisations such as English National Opera, Britten Sinfonia, Welsh National Opera and Oldham Coliseum have hit the music industry and wider culture sector hard. MU members and other workers are concerned about the future of their jobs. During a cost-of-living crisis, news about the cuts has been devastating. The MU will continue to work with our members, colleagues, and organisations to support members affected and campaign for more investment in the sector.

At the same time, in the same 2023-26 funding round, ACE have invested in the most culturally diverse range of organisations than it ever has before and those funding decisions should be celebrated.

MU members work across the industry in every orchestra and every venue up and down the country. Our members literally work everywhere! The recent round of ACE investment has supported some professional orchestras and organisations, where many of our members work, that create opportunities and platforms for underrepresented groups and work to make the music industry more diverse and inclusive.

How can both things be true at once? Arts and culture funding has gone down 46% in real terms since 2005. Successive governments have made arts funding a question of ‘this or that’ successful organisation doing regionally, nationally and internationally important work. They have chosen to limit access to arts subjects in higher education knowing that it will disproportionately impact marginalised communities.

What MU members need is more arts funding, not less, to make sure that a career as a musician, or in any arts and culture role, is available and accessible to everyone.

In the meantime, let’s take a look at some of the organisations that received funding and celebrate the important work that they do.

Paraorchestra: championing D/deaf and disabled talent

Paraorchestra is the world's only large-scale virtuoso ensemble of professional disabled and non-disabled musicians. The orchestra champions the talents of professional D/deaf, disabled, and neurodiverse musicians and creates a space where music, innovation, and inclusivity come together.

It’s essential that we have visible role models of disabled musicians, working in professional orchestras. We know from research and from our members that disabled musicians with both visible and non-visible impairments experience a lack of access provision and outdated attitudes on what disabled musicians can and can’t do and still face major barriers for forging careers in the industry. These barriers mean disabled musicians often don’t see or hear themselves represented in classrooms, on stages and in pits.

Playing old and new repertoire, that includes digital or assistive instruments alongside traditional ones, Paraorchestra is a platform that breaks down barriers for disabled musicians and ensures their talent is part of the cultural landscape.

Chineke! A Catalyst for Change

The Chineke! Foundation was created by Chi-chi Nwanoku CBE in 2015 to provide outstanding career opportunities to established and up-and-coming Black and ethnically diverse classical musicians in the UK and Europe. Chineke!’s motto is: ‘Championing change and celebrating diversity in classical music’. Chineke! founder, Chi-chi Nwanoku CBE moved a motion at MU Delegate Conference that called on the MU to support and become a member of the Chineke! Alliance for Audition Support.

The orchestra comprises exceptional musicians from across the continent brought together multiple times per year. As Europe’s first majority Black and ethnically diverse orchestra, Chineke! perform a mixture of standard orchestral repertoire along with the works of Black and ethnically diverse composers both past and present.

The Chineke! Junior Orchestra, acts as a bridge between youth schemes and higher education, giving its players experience, encouragement and confidence to pursue music at third level and increase the numbers of Black and ethnically diverse players working in the industry. Organisations like Chineke! are helping to ensure the classical sector becomes more diverse.

Multi-Story Orchestra: committed to diversity in players and audiences  

The Multi-Story Orchestra brings together professional musicians and young people to create extraordinary performances in unexpected spaces.

From their home, Bold Tendencies car park in Peckham, their mission is to find inclusive, creative ways to make powerful orchestral music, to give opportunities to those who don’t already have them, to empower everyone they involve to be creative and be heard, and to inspire change in the rest of the orchestral world.

Created 10 years ago the orchestra has inclusion and diversity at its core and makes classical music accessible to people of all ages. Their commitment to widening accessibility to classical music isn’t just reflected in the diverse range of musicians and young people they work with but also in the diverse audiences their work attracts.

The Muti-Story Orchestra are celebrated as one of the most exciting young orchestras to emerge in recent years and their work will help ensure that diverse musicians are working across the industry and help to inspire the next generation of classical musicians.

Supporting Arts Organisations in the National Portfolio

Investment Principles Support Organisations (IPSOs) support organisations working in the sector to embed the Arts Councils Investment Principles rather than directly producing arts and culture as National Portfolio Organisations do.

Attitude is Everything

Attitude is Everything (AIE) have been working to make the music industry accessible for audiences and artists for over 20 years.

Since launching their Charter of Best Practice (now the Live Events Access Charter); a framework designed by to make equality law practical for the music industry, over a 150 organisations who have worked with AIE to build disability equality into their venue or event have received an award.

The Next Stage initiative works to ensure that artists who have access requirements can thrive within the music industry through targeted resources, training, and an artists’ network. The MU and AIE share the ambition of creating a music industry where disabled musicians can play on any stage, in any pit and at any festival across the UK.

The MU works closely with AIE on their “Just Ask” initiative, which supports the use of the MU Access Rider and AIE founder, Suzanne Bull MBE has recently helped lead a session at the 2022 MU Members Conference discussing access for disabled musicians. For Disability History Month 2022 the MU has partnered with AIE to champion disabled musicians and highlight the importance of creating a culture where musicians can disclose their access requirements without fear of discrimination.

AIE are an essential part of the music industry, led by people with lived experience of being disabled and support the industry to understand and break down the barriers that disabled people face accessing live music and working in the music industry.

Black Lives in Music

Black Lives in Music (BLiM) are at the vanguard of the effort to combat racism in the music industry. BLiM work to unite organisations and musicians to create a truly inclusive and diverse music industry.

Using data and insights to campaign for equity, BLiM support the empowerment of Black, Asian and Ethnically Diverse musicians to realise their aspirations.

The MU have supported BLiM’s work from day one. Our shared vision of a music industry where Black, Asian and Ethnically Diverse musicians can reach their full potential, free from discrimination is the driving force behind our partnership and the MU are proud to be an official partner organisation.

Since forming two years ago BLiM have had a massive impact on the music industry. BLiM’s ground-breaking report ‘Being Black in the UK Music Industry’ is the first of its kind and highlighted the experiences of Black musicians and industry professionals and was a call to action to the music industry to work together to dismantle structural racism.

BLiM worked with the MU at MU Members' Conference 2022 to deliver a session on “creating an anti-racist code of conduct” which will be launched next year and help raise standards and tackle discrimination. The MU will be working closely with BLiM on the implementation of the code of conduct to ensure that it’s in place wherever our member’s work.

The MU looks forward to working with these organisations and can’t wait to see what they achieve in the coming years.  

In the meantime, the union is working to support organisations who have lost funding, and will continue to lobby the UK Government and devolved Governments to fund the UK's full arts infrastructure.

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