Blog Post

Reflections on the CPP Network Gathering, May 2020


Rachel Adam, Project Director, Museums Northumberland bait reflects on her learning from our two-day online 'Gathering'. A twice yearly event where CPP Programmes get together to explore relevant and current topics and issues.

Photo from CPP conference 2018 by SAI Photography

Over the last seven years, a really important part of the CPP National Peer Learning and Communications programme has been our full network gatherings.  We meet up twice a year, hosted by one of the CPP places, for facilitated discussions, honest sharing and provocations from outside the network.  The chat usually goes on into the evening over food and a few drinks.  The aim is to support learning between CPP places which in turn strengthens delivery of our individual programmes.

The themes for the gatherings are agreed by the National Advisory Group, which involves representatives of 14 CPP places.  Diversity and inclusion is a topic that we’ve discussed in many ways and in March we decided to make this the focus for our May 2020 gathering.  Once the theme was agreed, the detail was put together by Amanda Smethurst (freelance Peer Learning Manager) with brilliant input from the team at Creative Black Country.

We wanted to explore three questions:

  1. How do we challenge unconscious bias to increase inclusion and access?
  2. Who aren’t we reaching with our work and why?
  3. What is our role, and what can we do within our programmes to ensure the arts sector workforce and our staff teams are more representative of the local communities we work with?

The original plan was that the gathering would take place in Slough, hosted by Home Slough.   Getting to visit other CPP places always adds huge richness to the gatherings, but this year we have to do things differently.  With the country in lock down, Amanda adapted the gathering so it became a half day event on Zoom.  63 people attended, bringing perspectives from different types of job role including as Creative Producers, Communications Managers and Project Directors.

We were joined by 6 provocateurs, all from outside the CPP network, who shared their lived experiences and professional perspectives. 

Sara Wajid (Head of Engagement at Museum of London) is also known for her work founding the Museum Detox network, which has boosted conversations about decolonising museums.  She shared two stories, one from a workplace and one from an incident in the street outside her house, which challenged us to think about when we do or don’t see bias, and crucially how bias is then addressed.

Rachael Minott (Inclusion and Change Manager at the National Archives) champions collaborative practises and challenges the concept of neutrality in public spaces. She began with a challenge around language: “I wanted to approach this question [around unconscious bias] by exploring biases encouraged by the language we use when discussing inclusion and access. In particular I wanted to discuss direct and sharp cutting language vs euphemism. The euphemistic language I reference includes ‘diversity’ and ‘inclusion’.”

Rinkoo Barpaga is a Deaf stand-up comedian, film and theatre maker.  He shared the development of his career “which started in the US, as people in the UK didn’t think a deaf person could be a stand-up comedian.” He talked about his work, which is autobiographical and told through mime, physical theatre and British Sign Language. 

Rachael Veazey (co-founder of Deaf Explorer, a development and creative producing company for Deaf artists) talked about the “hidden admin and scaffolding needed to ensure full inclusion of deaf artists.”  She also highlighted the specialist nature of this work and that when setting up events it is fine to ask for help and say “I don’t know what to do.”

Orian Brook (AHRC Creative and Digital Economy Innovation Leadership Fellow at the University of Edinburgh) researches inequalities in the creative economy.  Her provocation was about “reflexivity and luck” including a reminder that “very few of us would regard our own backgrounds or upbringing as privileged, but most of us have been lucky, and that luck is not fairly distributed. Most often people ‘take a chance’ on someone who reminds them of themselves, and in a situation of existing inequalities, this will ensure that they are reproduced.”

The final provocation came from Paige Jackson (Creative Producer at Curiosity Productions) who shared her journey into the cultural sector: “But even in the arts I was surrounded by role models who did not look or sound like me. They weren’t going through similar struggles; they just didn’t get me and I never really fully got them either. This was an isolating experience at the best of times. I remember thinking things like: Where are the black and brown teachers, choreographers, writers and painters? Why did I get told off for tapping my feet under the desk and doodling in class, even though they help me to learn better? Why is everything so rigid and binary? Why is art at school separate to everything else and treated like a bit of faffing on the side? Why are career fairs so boring and dull? Why do my teachers know nothing about creative careers and why do the websites that talk about them seem so detached from the real thing with no real life examples?”

After sharing their provocations most of the speakers stayed with us on-line and joined the discussion groups, which added energy, challenge and humour to the conversations. Not surprisingly there are seven pages of notes, which Amanda collated after the event and shared with everyone who attended. Looking back over them two months on from the gathering, here are a few that jumped out to me:

“Importance of language and the nuances of how language is used – very small moments can reveal unconscious bias/ lead to exclusion and equally it can sometimes only take small things to increase inclusion”

“Importance of ‘person centred thinking’ (from Healthcare sector) reminding us that we all have multiple identities and to avoid ‘one size fits all’ approaches.”

“Be prepared to make mistakes and act on the learning.”

“Workforce diversity can be increased in lots of ways, through programming, small scale commissions, Producer Hubs etc.”

“In the current context of Covid-19 there is much benefit and learning to be gained from young people with transferable skills in relation to digital working, who may currently feel far removed from creative producer and curatorial roles.” 

This is a huge topic which we will return to again and again.  Re-reading the provocation notes I found another useful ‘note to self’ in Rachael Minott’s piece: “The key is to know you will never be finished, but to work constantly on improving and innovating.  Allow space for multiple perspectives to meet, savour disagreements; they are the foundation for growth.”