Although this all seems so long ago, The Civil Society Futures Inquiry took place between 2016-2018. It found that across England too many people felt unheard, ignored, and frustrated as members of civil society. More recent events, like the global spread of the Black Lives Matter movement in response to the murder of George Floyd in 2020, have also acutely demonstrated that imbalances in power are often at the heart of the issue: who gets listened to, who makes decisions, who is in control.
Calls to address power imbalances and to address racism are of course not new in the arts sector. Yet in recent years, these calls have gathered momentum and many working in the arts are adapting how they operate in order to maintain their relevance and impact and to open up access to the arts. A lack of diverse leadership and a narrowing of who can participate in creative expression and voice can mean that some do not get an opportunity to experience the full impact of art and creativity in their lives. We know that for all the immense good that the arts do in the UK, there are also some important limitations in the range and impact of that work along the lines of gender, class, race and so on. There can be a gap between aspiration and what is happening on the ground.
PACT framework: Power, Accountability, Connection, Trust
The Inquiry’s recommendations argued that the pace of change on these societal issues can be supported by civil society leading the way and reflecting on its own practice and using power more equitably. It recommended a shared ‘PACT’ (focused on Power, Accountability, Connection and Trust) and a direction of travel for how civil society wants to be now and in the future.
The PACT Pioneer programme responded to the Inquiry’s recommendations by creating with UK arts and culture leaders a practical framework for developing leaders’ equitable and effective use of power. This framework was piloted with the PACT Pioneer learning cohort (a mix of arts organisations and artists) over a period of 12 months at the height of the Covid-19 pandemic. This was a time when the arts have been called to action like never before to attend to their anti-racist agenda. It is, in 2022, an unusual thing to hear of an organisation that hasn’t been under the spotlight internally and externally on the agenda of anti-racism.
This practical ‘exercise book‘ captures the main themes of the programme and is created for others working in the arts. We hope that you will be interested in reading it and exploring its use in your work.
What the PACT programme told us
The PACT programme created space for leaders in arts organisations to consider the deep and critical work of anti-racism in particular and what is needed to truly progress on the agenda both in their own leadership of an organisation and more widely in the sector.
Making connections with each other in the process of the work has been immeasurably valuable. Many of the participants fed back that the opportunity to take time together, across art forms and regions, to work collectively on anti-racism was undeniably helpful. The connections forged in the programme continue to flourish post-course and provide a safe and supportive space for discussion.
The participants also had the opportunity to consider how power functions and is activated in racialised dynamics. They were invited to reflect on how they use their power to support and advocate for anti-racism. Some participants also took part in the Diamond Power Index (DPI) – an innovative assessment process on how leaders express power and how it impacts the important work they are doing building culture in organisations. A number of leaders reported that the programme had supported them to rethink their approaches to recruitment and how their improved awareness of their own power had improved their relationships with colleagues. It’s often said that the more senior you get the less you know your impact on those around you and the DPI creates a window of insight to support leaders – not to shed their power but to utilise it with good judgement and accountability.
And that accountability is an unending process travelling in all directions. The participants on the course recognised the tensions of being accountable to funders and grant-makers who support the work undertaken in arts spaces and also being accountable to audiences, freelancers and communities they work directly with. Though these tensions cannot necessarily be eradicated the group found it helpful to collectively consider how to navigate these multiple aspects. The group explored the importance of prioritising accountability to marginalised communities and reflected on how easily that accountability can be usurped by power dynamics within the arts sector. Participants reported that they found it helpful to take time to critically reflect on the arts sector and their own positionality within it.
The programme finished with a session on trust which was widely informed by the previous sessions and the integration of anti-racism work within both the participants organisations and the arts sector. Participants were encouraged to consider how trust is cultivated and grown and their individual and collective skills and strategies to do this.
The deep reflection sessions created throughout the programme gave participants the space to see that the various areas of the PACT programme are not areas of learning that are suspended from the actuality of the work. Instead, power, accountability, connection and trust are living and breathing aspects of the work that are in a complex and nuanced dance that can easily become arrhythmic if one aspect is out of sync. Each section needs care and attention, recognition that it cannot bloom without the critical and necessary focus of the participants who are leading others in the dance.
Access exercise book
Lakshnie Hettihewa-Young is Senior Learning and Development Partner and Asif Afridi is Deputy CEO at brap. If you would like to get in touch to learn more about their work to support arts organisations and networks to share power, improve accountability to communities and progress anti-racism, please contact [email protected].