Tate: ‘Making a statement isn’t enough’

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THE VOICE Newspaper has been working with The Tate closely for the last three years but even with their eyes firmly on increasing the diversity of artistic output that has been created by black people, they forgot to look inward.

That isn’t a criticism it’s a truth. For if they desired to be truly inclusive and thus diverse, a look to the left or right would have told them everything they needed to know.

The founding of our gallery and the building of its collection are intimately connected to Britain’s colonial past

Tate Statement

I write from experience.

Last December I, along with other members of the national media, was invited to a Christmas lunch at the Tate which was attended by the respective directors of all the varying sections of the institution.

I was one of three black people present in a room of about eighty people and I already knew one of them. All three were from the media.

It spoke volumes.

Not necessarily of the omnipresent privilege enjoyed by those in the coridoors of power, but of the shortcomings of their networks.

If this was a snapshot of who the people in that room was connected to, it was no wonder things are the way they are.

So I applaud the tone of their recent statement, see below, for it no longer puts the notion of increasingly diverse output as the be all and end of appearing inclusive, it juxtaposes the issues of recruitment within their own ranks.

This type of spotlighting will lead to significant change quicker than any other.

Spotlighting alone however must be coupled with concerted action. We see the landscape now and we’ll see it in the future too.

Tate Statement:

In response to the tragic events of the past few weeks and the powerful anti-racism protests across the UK and around the world, we wanted to reaffirm Tate’s commitment to combating racism.

We stand in solidarity with all those who are peacefully protesting and we hear the demands for change from our own visitors, supporters, artists, colleagues, partners, and the wider community. The founding of our gallery and the building of its collection are intimately connected to Britain’s colonial past

But making a statement isn’t enough. To address structural racism and the inequalities underpinning society, we have a responsibility to act.

Installation of Steve McQueen Year-3 project at the Tate

Our role at Tate is to share art in all its complexity and diversity. In recent years we have made progress in better representing BAME artists in our collection and our programmes, but that work must go much further. We know, too, that not everyone has equal access to art and its benefits. We’re committed to changing this through our work, and to challenging ourselves to dismantle the structures within our own organisation which perpetuate that inequality.

The founding of our gallery and the building of its collection are intimately connected to Britain’s colonial past, and we know there are uncomfortable images, ideas and histories in the past 500 years of art which need to be acknowledged and explored. We also recognise the connection between our commitment to address the climate emergency and actions to combat social inequalities. This includes the intersections of race, gender, sexuality and class in the experience of inequality.

These are not new aims for Tate. We have a stated objective to become a more inclusive institution that reflects the world we live in now. But progress has not been fast or significant enough, so we are taking a number of actions in response. These include:

  • Creating a properly resourced internal taskforce this month to accelerate our progress toward being an anti-racist organisation.
  • Developing an action plan in dialogue with colleagues, which will be published on our website this summer, with progress reports shared publicly at 6-month intervals.
  • Redoubling our commitments to diversifying our workforce, especially at the highest levels, and supporting ethnic minority career progression. This will include publishing updated statistics to measure progress.
  • Reaffirming that we have zero tolerance of harassment and bullying, and introducing mandatory anti-racism training alongside existing unconscious-bias and structural racism training.
  • Commissioning a guide to ally-ship from recognised BAME leader(s) in this field for those who work at Tate to help us shape positive practice in our sector.
  • Continuing our work to diversify our collection and exhibitions, as well as finding new opportunities to amplify the voices and creativity of Black artists.

Some of these actions will have immediate effects, while others will take longer to accomplish, so we must hold ourselves accountable for maintaining this focus in the long term.

In setting out these commitments, we also want to acknowledge that we do not have all the answers and have not always got things right in the past, and we will continue to educate ourselves and listen to others.

With thanks to our BAME Staff Network for their recommendations, we wanted to begin by sharing some causes and organisations below whose work and expertise we can all learn from.

This is a brief selection and not meant as a complete list, but a starting point…

Further resources

Black Cultural Archives

  • A national heritage centre dedicated to collecting, preserving and celebrating the histories of African and Caribbean people in Britain.

Black Lives Matter

  • A global organisation whose mission is to eradicate white supremacy and build local power to intervene in violence inflicted on Black communities.

National Museum of African American History & Culture

  • Museum devoted exclusively to the documentation of African American life, history, and culture.

Racial Equality Foundation

  • Promoting race equality in social support and public services.

Resourcing Racial Justice

  • A coalition of people of colour innovators, change makers, activists, artists and social leaders dedicated to social change.

Responses to Tate’s Collection by our BAME Network

  • Tate’s Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic Network is made up of a diverse range of voices of Tate staff.

Shades of Noir

  • An independent program created by Aisha Richards that supports curriculum design, pedagogies of social justice through representation, cultural currency and accessible knowledge.

Stephen Lawrence Charitable Trust

  • Working with young people from disadvantaged backgrounds to inspire and enable them to succeed in the career of their choice.

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