Recently, on the Parliamentary Channel I caught a late-night adjournment debate with Chuka Umunna MP urging the government to ensure a more rapid response in the battle for greater diversity in private sector board-rooms as well as in senior corporate management. His diversity demands related to both greater gender equality at the highest levels of business as well greater participation by the ethnic minority community on boards and in senior management positions. (This writer with an Afro-Caribbean partner and bi-racial children listened with personal as well as political interest).
The former shadow-minister in his quite cool forensic style presented the uncomfortable truths of a business culture with a paucity of women and an absence of non-white bosses at the top table.
Serendipity showed her presence as I am, as we speak, planning to present a possible policy recommendation to the Scottish Government on Community Arts development with the need for greater diversity within arts leadership in Scotland .
As we are dealing with the creative sector allow me to invite you to engage your imagination a wee while. This is the scene. The minister for the arts, Fiona Hyslop, has called a meeting of her five major Scottish Government funded arts-companies plus of course Edinburgh International Festival, Creative Scotland and for future planning the Head of the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland. That illustrious group absorbs a substantial portion of her budget. (There are three other budget heads in her arts portfolio, capital expenditure the new Dundee V&A and gallery refurbishing, the hot topic of broadcasting and finally a Commonwealth Games initiative Let Scotland Dance).
But her guests are the big spenders led by Creative Scotland, the Edinburgh International Festival and the subsidized performance five: Scottish Ballet, Scottish Opera, the National Orchestra, the Chamber Orchestra and the National Theatre of Scotland.
Coming into Hyslop’s meeting as a bit of an interloper from education is the grandly named Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, whose quality output in music, theatre and dance should feed the others with talent.
Ms Hyslop begins the meeting with an energetic pep talk on the need to grow the Scottish creative industries sector plus the usual ministerial pointy finger on the need to spend wisely, with care and caution as it is the ‘peoples’ money’.
While she speaks to the bored congregation around the large oaken board table she notices for the first time that out of the eight powerful figures only Creative Scotland has a woman leader in the presence of Janet Archer.
She sits amidst a cast of men; seven of them (seven it is said makes things perfect):
Fergus Linehan Director of the Edinburgh International Festival, Christopher Hanson Scottish Ballet, Stuart Stratford Scottish Opera, Peter Oundjian National Orchestra, Robin Ticciati director of Scottish Chamber Orchestra, Laurie Sansom of National Theatre of Scotland and finally the large figure of Professor Jeffrey Sharkey from the Royal Conservatoire. Quite a body of talent indeed, BUT all men and all white men.
The lack of diversity is eye-catching if not eye-popping. Minister Hyslop makes a note but makes no mention of the glaring inequality with no woman creative leader from the big seven while the question of colour or lack of it passes her bye for the moment. But a review of the international creative and arts scene would have revealed that very, very few of the big star-filled performance companies have creative women leading them. (In Scotland the major arts performance company with a woman leader is Dundee Rep with Jemima Levick as Artistic Director).
But as the conversion and discussion warms up the loquacious Ms Hylton is soon outspoken by the urgency of the demands from around the table. She has an image of Leith with noisy sea-gulls attacking the sea-front for food. She remembers the collective noun for sea-gulls is appropriately a squabble.
Then suddenly like a skelp on the face comes a fresh realization. In that room of over a million pounds of creative talent with several millions in collective budgets, la crème de la crème of creativity in Scotland as well as Creative Scotland, Ms Hyslop, the minister, was the one and only Scot in the room.
The shock turned her red with embarrassment. Her chief minister had lectured all of her ministers on seeking gender balance in appointments but here was a case in the sensitive area of Scottish cultural development with no Scots-surely a glaring case of lack of diversity.
While the fierce eloquence continued she noted of the eight, five were from England: Ms Archer from Creative Scotland, and the key creative figures from the National Theatre, Ballet, Opera, and Chamber Orchestra; then there was an Irishman at the Edinburgh Festival (in 70 years there has never been a Scottish born director of the Festival), a Canadian/Armenian leader at the National Orchestra and an American principal at the Conservatoire. No Europeans, no Asians, no Latins no Afro–Caribbeans, no Scots: in the global world of cultural excellence the talent pool was narrow.
“Diversity is vital” she thought “it enriches like a fertilizer our local soil” she rationalized. But then it seemed it was all fertilizer and no local soil.
Why does Scotland not produce any leaders in the major arts community in Scotland? Is our artistic talent too wee, too poor and too talentless? For Scotland to create a distinctive cultural voice and a vision with the quality to inspire Scotland and indeed the world, a diverse range of talents is important. But diversity must include some men and women whose sensitivity has been nourished and honed within this indigenous community from Shetland to Galloway. Developing a cadre of talent for building a new nation requires making appropriate choices now.
The meeting continues with preparations for a new Government in May.