Over the last few months we have been closely following the upsurge of awareness of systemic and systematic racism within our sector.
After discussing the issues at length as a group of staff and trustees, and with young people and artists, we decided to wait until we had tangible progress to report, before going public with our response. There have been enough warm words and good intentions over the years.
We accept that responses to structural inequality require structural change, which has to go beyond programming, casting and commissioning. So, first and foremost, we are in the process of developing our governance model to better reflect the life experiences and cultures of our key stakeholders: young people, local communities and early career artists.
We have started a process to better reflect our young and highly diverse range of participants on our Board of Trustees. For the last 20 years, we have had a minimum of two young people under 25 join our Board, and we recently appointed a Chair under 30, Junior Akinola. We are now moving towards our ambition for 50% trustees under 30 by April 2021. Currently 42% of our Trustees are Black, Mixed Heritage or South Asian.
Following the murder of George Floyd and the global aftermath, and racist incidents and deaths closer to home, we held a young peoples’ forum chaired by Contact trustee Reece Williams, and founder of Kids of Colour, Roxy Legane. They made recommendations for change that we are adopting.
We have established four new working groups, comprising staff, board and young people, tasked with driving anti-racism in Recruitment, Policy, Training and Language. These groups report to board, and have resulted in a revised recruitment and interview process, an ongoing review of internal policies, and the development of a glossary of terms in response to BAME Over.
While our staff are from a wide range of racial, cultural and economic backgrounds, we are acutely aware that we have an all-white Senior Management Team, and the overall level of diverse representation is only 20% across all staff. This is now a major focus for succession planning and recruitment. We will be taking demographic data for the city to set targets for representation across departments.
Contact’s programme is widely seen as leading for its cultural diversity, rated Outstanding for Arts Council England’s Creative Case. However, there is more to do to represent our communities, and to highlight and challenge racism and inequality through our programme, producing and artist support.
To that end, recent programming has included Our City Speaks, broadcast globally via the United We Stream platform, featuring spoken word responses and calls to action in solidarity with Black Lives Matter. Proceeds were donated to the Bail Project. The Contact and Young Identity poetry slam One Mic Stand in June took a Black Lives Matter focus, raising funds for Black Minds Matter UK.
Our partnership with Black Gold Arts Festival ran in October, featuring Travis Alabanza, Cheryl Martin, Darren Pritchard, Stacy Makishi and Topher Campbell, with a symposium on Decolonising Theatre. We also supported the commemoration of the 5th Pan African Congress, held in Manchester in 1945, featuring the likes of David Olusoga and Akala, curated by former Contact producer Tunde Adekoya.
With BBC’s Blue Peter, we supported young poets to write for children about Black History Month, and have developed a project, I Read Me, focusing on Black children’s authors. This was inspired by a letter written by the daughter of a Contact staff member to her Headteacher, calling for greater diversity in the authors they study.
Data and reporting
We are currently looking at ways in which we improve the detail and quality of data we obtain for audiences and participants. The following data is for financial year 2019/2020, when we were operating off-site during a major building capital development, with a reduced staff team and artistic programme.
Contact Commissioned and Lead artists*
White British 31%
East Asian 31%
Black Caribbean and White 13%
Black African 6%
Black Caribbean 6%
*(based on 16 responses)
Contact Board of Trustees
White British 58%
Gypsy or Irish Traveller
Any other White background
White and Black Caribbean 8%
White and Black African
White and Asian 8%
Any other Mixed background
Any other Asian background
Black Caribbean 8%
Any other ethnic group
|Specialist Staff||Managers||Other Staff||Total|
|Gypsy or Irish Traveller||0|
|Any other White background||1||3%|
|White and Black Caribbean||1||1||1||10%|
|White and Black African||0|
|White and Asian||0|
|Any other Mixed background||0|
|Any other Asian background||0|
|Any other Black background||0|
|Any other ethnic group||0|
|Prefer not to say||0|
The target for Contact’s Board makeup to reach 50% under age 30 is April 2021.
Our ambition for staffing to reflect the wider city’s demography will feed into Contact’s business planning for 2021-2025, with aims set in agreement with board in March 2021.
Progress will be monitored every 6 months, and the information on this page updated.