Many Voices: Looking at the experiences of underrepresented voices in Scottish arts and culture
From world-class solo projects and artistic collaborations to noteworthy organisations, events and festivals, arts and culture in Scotland is healthy and thriving. While we can undoubtedly be proud of the immense levels of talent that exist within Scotland’s creative sector, it is also fair to comment that there remains a level of privilege and elitism that can often give arts and culture in this country an air of exclusivity. There are a plethora of creatives working, performing, disseminating and trailblazing in their own ways in Scotland from underrepresented backgrounds, and despite attempts to break down structural barriers and hierarchies, they continue to face hurdles in being seen and heard. As redundancies and massive cuts loom large in Scotland’s media, there is a very real threat of these voices within our creative industries being buried and forgotten as publications tighten their budgets and narrow their focus towards more mainstream stories.
With this at the forefront of their commitment to creating a media that accurately reflects our society and challenges cultural norms, Bella Caledonia aims to tackle this dwindling space in the media through the launch of Many Voices, a funded programme giving writers and artists the opportunity for a sustained practice of work. The four-month project will see six Commissioning Editors develop separate commissions to explore a particular theme. As the first of these six Editors, I will be using my project to focus on the experiences of underrepresented voices in Scottish arts and culture, with an emphasis on spotlighting current and future projects by creatives of colour.
The widespread and long lasting effects of COVID-19 certainly endanger the future of our cultural ecosystem, and in particular, the work that has already been done to address and respond to its imbalance. But with discussions of funding, access and inclusivity being given greater prominence, we also now have a unique opportunity to address issues of representation and diversity with real emphasis and urgency. In the media, there is a space for analysis and scrutiny on whose stories are being told and why, and what we collectively want our cultural landscape to look like in the future and post-pandemic.
The following questions will be asked throughout my term as Commissioning Editor:
- Why is it important to have voices of diverse backgrounds covering the arts?
- What could the Scottish media gain from having more people of colour involved more broadly?
- Do people of colour currently feel well represented within the creative industries? Are there enough publications/outlets that highlight their work?
- What does our cultural landscape really look like and who do we want to be supporting/funding in the future?
- What can be done to get more creatives of colour involved in the arts in Scotland in a way that is genuine and not tokenistic, with attention also given to sustained support?
As part of the Many Voices project, I intend to explore these points and evaluate where we want to be in the future with regards to fostering underrepresented voices in our creative sector. The ultimate aim is twofold: to find more writers of colour with an interest in arts coverage and to seek out current people/projects of note in Scotland’s creative industries that deserve recognition through features, news stories, Q&As and more. This could be anyone from musicians, DJs and composers to artists, dancers and theatre makers.
While this is a work-in-progress at the moment, I’m very keen to hear from people that might want to get involved or find out more about the project. Over the next few weeks and months, I’ll be getting in touch with both individuals and groups in Scotland that may find this project of interest but if you have any suggestions or comments, please do feel free to email me at – firstname.lastname@example.org – or find me on Twitter at @arusaqureshi.
I certainly don’t claim to have all the answers or solutions but hope that I can work with others to make a positive impact. Now is the time to tear down and build from the ground up, allowing diverse communities in particular the chance to have their voices heard and their creative work acknowledged, highlighting a cultural landscape that is truly representative of Scotland.