Woodblock prints from Onchi Koshiro and Hiratsuka Un’ichi – courtesy of Art Fund
As part of their ongoing commitment to better serve and engage minority audiences, Art Fund recently commissioned STUDIO AAPT to explore diversity & inclusion within UK art & culture.
Focusing specifically on museums, galleries, and historic places, we spoke to a range of ethnic minority audiences interested in the arts, about the curation and communications of content as well as the impact of venues themselves.
Most felt their culture is forgotten, ignored or vilified -
"My culture should be seen. It always feels like it’s not taken into consideration. We’re never given credit for the ideas and the creativity that have come from my culture."
This lack of representation and acknowledgement undermines minority audiences, perpetuating a sense that their cultures are weaker and less significant.
Representation within venues is also important. Younger ethnic audiences are acutely aware that "the closest person that will look like you is the security guard or coat clerk", which says volumes about the opportunity ethnic audiences have in belonging and succeeding in the art world.
With art considered a form of identity, most expressed the need to change the narrative rather than censor the content. Tackling representation is the first step, but meaningful strategies need to go beyond this.
Behind the scenes at the Sarikhani Collection (Epic Iran) – courtesy of Peter Guenzel and Art Fund
More careful, diligent curation is vital in changing the narrative.
Vetted boards of diverse opinion leaders in museums and galleries were cited as a way of ensuring exhibitions are curated and captioned correctly.
With minority audiences keen to support organisations who are committed to diversity, initiatives or structures that prove a long-term commitment should be publicised.
Balancing the historical with the contemporary is another way to engage minority audiences as it demonstrates a stake and influence on current culture.
For some, a sense of relevance and permission is conveyed through the chosen exhibition topics themselves -
"If you've not been brought up with parent role-models that take you to these spaces which instils this sense that you belong there, you have to create that sense of belonging through relevant topics and experiences."
Importantly, continuous communications rather than relying on just the obvious festivals or historical moments is another way to illustrate that minority audiences matter all the time.
Shahed Saleem’s replicas of London mosques for Venice Architecture Biennale – courtesy of Dezeen
Venues themselves can be improved to welcome a more diverse crowd.
In our study, there was less of a concern about ‘de-colonising’ spaces but a greater emphasis on smaller details that could make a big difference in making minority audiences feel more welcome.
For example, simple facilities such as a prayer and washroom for Muslim visitors are greatly appreciated as it can create a barrier to when and how often they can visit, especially in the winter months when prayers are more frequent.
However, design is not confined to the physical space but also relates to the overall experience.
Organisations should think of a visit as a complete experience, acknowledging different needs right down to the food and beverage.
It’s another way of celebrating and signalling the merit of all cultures while creating a multi-sensory experience that would be appreciated more widely -
"A museum is a space for everyone, it needs to be human friendly, not just cultural friendly."