Hi, welcome back to the final part of my blog series on increasing diversity in youth arts to ensure engagement of young people and their families. We ended the last instalment of this blog by asking what is diversity so let’s dive right in. Although I’ve tried to ensure this part stands alone it is building on thoughts and discussion from parts 1 and 2 so I suggest you go read those first. Here’s a link to part 2, which has a link to part 1:
Well. Diversity means different things to different people. It’s a bit of a non-answer but it’s true. I take it to mean a wide variety of lived experiences and points of view. Work from multiple frames of reference. By not portraying other frames we do not see them as normal and widely experienced and in that there is an implicit cultural denial of those experience and, quoting Phillip K Dick “to deny others their perception of reality is the greatest cruelty”
To that end we must resist imposed identities. Creating work simply to fill our idea of what is missing or what identities need work made for them is a fools game. So much of this comes down to getting out there and meeting people, having a tea and just finding out about them. Which means you. The person reading this. Get out there. And don’t talk to people who are also reading this. The conversations to create change need to happen with people not in the room.
Also: Don’t say diverse if you just mean brown. Just don’t.
What’s at stake if we don’t make theatre more relevant? Look online and look outside. Young people all over the world are engaging with groups they feel understand their reality. It just happens to be that those groups are extremists. Extremists have a better route to inspire young people than we do currently and that is both fucking shameful and damaging. You might not believe me but allow me to use an example from my own cultural background: the youngish, nerdy white guy. Look at all the young men radicalised in to becoming neo-nazis in Charlottesville. Most of them came from the men’s rights activism sphere, a sub-culture that blossomed due to them feeling ignored by a society that focused on feminism. Now this came from a fundamental misunderstanding on feminism but the result was they were pushed away as young white men of privilege (even though in their eyes they had no privilege at all). And all it took was someone to say “I hear you, I understand you, you’re not wrong, come with me I have the answer” and we suddenly have a resurgence in white nationalism. I’m sure you can find and think of plenty of other examples. Marginalised, excluded young people will latch on to voices they feel understand them. If we can create work that engages with them and engages with them ourselves we can reduce this. Don’t wait for a magic inclusiveness fairy. Hit the streets. Hit the places where you know these young people are.
Ensure people embrace their own identity so that diversity does not just become a code for certain characteristics. Let people be who they are. Art and youth arts gives people a platform and voice in society. If certain people, certain groups do not have access to these platforms then we are at risk of creating a society that only recognises the struggles and lives of a small few. That is not fair. That is not right. It is also dangerous.
So there we go. Almost 3000 words on making youth arts more relevant to their audience. So many words I split it up in to three parts. And yet it feels like I barely said anything. Obviously as well it’s simply my opinions and observations so really what I’d love is to continue this conversation. Comment below. Talk to me. Talk to each other. I think the risks of locking people out of representation in the arts is more dangerous than people realise so how do we move forward. What actions and steps can we take? I think we need to put pressure on venues and bookers. Engage more with the young people we work with, and stay engaged long term. Their world changes so quickly and so frequently how on earth can we understand what matters to them, their families, if we only talk to them for a couple of 2 hour worskshops.
We know the problems. Let’s find the solutions.
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