Waiting for Tomorrow

An Open Letter from theatre maker and filmmaker Annie George in response to the CEO of Creative Scotland’s article about the “impact of the Black Lives Matter movement and Creative Scotland’s commitment to equality, diversity and inclusion”.

Dear Iain,

What I am about to say represents my personal views only, and not of any colleagues or bodies I am associated with.

I am tired Iain, so very tired, and not only because of this lockdown limbo. I have just reread your blog post. At first I skimmed it, noting the key words as I went along, ticking them off one by one – I know that script you see. But it has percolated and brewed overnight, and despite a special day today to reacquaint myself with cherished script work, your post kept flickering into my thoughts. So fingers to the keyboard again, in the hope of exorcising some of those thoughts. Never fear because your critical friend is here, the friend you say you need.

I’m glad you recognise the critical nature of this moment in time, Iain. Sure it’s true to say, a time like no other. It is also the apex of many critical times for BAME artists in Scotland too – I’ve never liked that acronym by the way, and don’t know anyone does. It doesn’t describe me, and ignores wholesale the diversity within diversity. (Perhaps, a note to yourself moment: add acronym change).

It is not without some trepidation that I and other colleagues of that ilk, have awaited and observed the theatre sector’s inevitable first gush, then the dribble of mea culpas and self-satisfied pledges to listen well and do better.

Your post is welcome, indeed as welcome as the sound of any penny drops in the halls of Creative Scotland, and even that of the funding incarnation before it. We artists (OK, BAME for now) have become very good at listening, having been extensively (and expensively) trained, sometimes trained to within an inch of our artistic lives. The sector is good at reviewing, reporting, advisory-panelling, but I’m not convinced that we all are equally as good at hearing or doing.

As you say, dear Iain, it is twenty one years since the Macpherson Report, in which ‘institutional discrimination’ was described as,

“The collective failure of an organisation to provide an appropriate and professional service to people because of their colour, culture and ethnic origin. It can be seen or detected in processes, attitudes and behaviour which amount to discrimination through unwitting prejudice, ignorance, thoughtlessness, racist stereotyping which disadvantages minority ethnic people.” (Macpherson, 1999, 6.34),

Speaking the words out loud, I find, helps to embed them, so I would ask you to try it – processes, prejudice, ignorance, thoughtlessness, stereotyping etc… They echo distinctly don’t you think?

And then it’s been ten years since the Equality Act, and the progress that you (switching to the collective you now) say has been made has been ‘in embedding principles of equalities and diversity in our strategies and practices’. What does that even mean? Undercover activity? If it’s not visible, how have the institutions and organisations you fund been held to account? What are the difficult questions you have asked, and the answers you have accepted?

I’m not asking for a defence here, nor for that matter the consultancies, advisories, or the new one ‘a taskforce’ that you propose. So, what have you done…actually? Asking, because despite countless requests from many quarters, the numbers have been collected at times and presumably counted, yet can you honestly say they have been published in any way that gives a true picture of where we stand on diversity – where you don’t have to play a lexicographical game of twister in reverse, to untangle. We know you like to collect numbers, so where do the real ones go? To some numerical undersea abyss in the Bermuda triangle?

In fact – and indulge my default setting of breaking down wordage – the prefix ‘re-‘ appears frequently in your post – renew, reinvigorating, revisions, refreshed. If the ‘-freshed’ Equalities Outcomes haven’t yielded greater representation and visibility in the first place, and your balm is more cash for clearer ‘indicators’ and ‘Agents for Change’, as opposed to actual projects which effect actual change; consultants, rather than artists who make goddamn (excuse I) art; can you not see, nay hear it…the collective screaming out, ‘Nooooo! It’s not going to work. You’re not helping’.

You hold aloft Create:Inclusion funding as a significant leap forward in your strategy and outcomes, as a response to the lack of any BAME Regular Funded Organisations. Hailed as the solution to the ‘problem’ for the best part of a year before it arrived, it changed in that time and was diluted, even as the problem remained.   Numbers again pulled focus. People with football pitch-sized differences in needs, skills and experiences, were thrown into gladiatorial combat against each other, in a cash Coliseum where the trophies were the many, doing more, on less. Plus ça change…

You see visibility isn’t just about numbers. It’s the difference between the chocolate sprinkles on top and ice cream that unapologetically contains real, chunky fruit and double cream (or a quality non-dairy equivalent for the lactose-intolerant). Trite analogy perhaps, but there’s a story in that too. It’s about flavour, depth and authenticity. It’s about creating a movement, a wave of energy from the artist to audience, a connection between humans, the rarest of prizes in these times. As the proverb says,

‘The story is told eye to eye, mind to mind and heart to heart’.

Not a word in there about an Agent for Change, to obscure the landscape, that we create in.

If I were to add up all the drip, drip, drips of funding I’ve had over the years, as a member of the Perpetual Development Hell-fire Club, imagine as I do, the number of properly resourced productions I could have sprung on to high profile platforms, to greater visibility and maybe even a ‘Collected Works by…’ on my shelf, to show that I. Have. Been. Here. I existed.

‘Another year older and what have I done, my aspirations have shrivelled in the sun’ (I’ve Been Waiting for Tomorrow (All of My Life), The The ).

I’m just plain old tired, Iain. Perhaps, because of my age, having turned (hate to see it on the page) fifty five during lockdown, or because next January I will complete a thirty stretch in Scottish theatre. That’s a life sentence, however you cut it, and it feels like it. Instead, we’re just going round in circles again. Been round too many times and I’m dizzy … as well as tired.

You see, no one can speak for me better than I can speak for myself. But the time for talk is over, time to start walking it.  You’re not seeing us artists, Iain. We are the Agents of Change. Let us do it, better.

Best wishes, Annie

Comments (3)

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  1. Morag Williams says:

    I don’t like the acronym either . . . was disgusted when I first read it. BTW, I doubt if the acronym was chosen by accident, especially if you contrast it with SAGE!

    In Australia, we use CALD: Culturally and Linguistically Different. Given the way new words are added to our lexicon, how about changing BME to CALD. Happy to hear if you have any other ideas!

    1. Annie George says:

      I’m trying to give them up, myself 🙂 Thanks for your comment.

  2. Arboreal Agenda says:

    I read this piece with a slight sense of dismay, mainly due to the heavily and obviously deliberately patronising and sarcastic tone and sense of desperation by the end.

    I then read the original linked missive from ‘Iain’ and instantly understood. And not because I suddenly gained a deep understanding of specific issues of the representation of different cultural groups in Scotland’s art scene but because of something much deeper than that: the replacement of the arts with a gargantuan edifice of administration, empty business-speak rhetoric and people who don’t even think what comes out their mouths is problematic at all. And all in the name of trying to support people being creative. It infests everything and is deeply, deeply depressing and worst of all, instead of enabling creative people it does the opposite – makes them want to give up. It leaves, I often notice, those who have got good at speaking the kind of language people like ‘Iain’ understand but also the kind of projects that will push the buttons of the administrators: a really unhealthy relationship develops between these two groups that excludes anyone who doesn’t want or know how to play the game.

    It is understood that when public money is used to fund the arts (which should mostly mean actual people doing the art), accountability matters and must happen and to some extent when trying to ensure less well-represented groups get proper funding, that accountability should be a route to help enable this. But it very often isn’t because those doing the accountability have so little notion of what matters, hence the frustration in the article about the appointment of yet more ‘agents of change’ (and they will be paid with the same money that could be used to fund actual art instead!)

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