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On diversity in arts education – Creative Review


It’s a problem. Pop around many of the design and media end-of-year degree shows right now, and you’ll likely be faced with much well-displayed work and well-presented portfolios produced predominately by students from middle-class, white backgrounds. It’s not their fault. The chances are that most of today’s graduates, supported by a pre-university educational system, had opportunities and support that school kids from non-traditional backgrounds struggled harder to access. We know that there has been a decline in the government’s support of arts-based subjects in schools – the impact is now evident as declining applications are hitting creative subjects at university.
It’s a hard fact. The government’s own statistics show that art, design and media courses attracted only 14% of their student cohorts, during 2015-16, from ethnic minorities. This is set against an average for all subject areas across the higher education sector of 26%; creative subjects are performing less well by some margin. Where will tomorrow’s diverse workforce for the creative industries come from if art, design and media education is struggling to diversify the student population?
Finally, the creative industries have seemingly woken up to the importance of employing people from wider sections of society – if you’re in the business of communicating, it makes sense that those doing the communicating are doing so from a position of understanding their audience. Even if it’s only a business thing – don’t alienate a growing percentage of your potential audience, and lose associated revenue, by failing to engage them in the most appropriate way. Having a diverse workforce surely means a greater range of voices and decision-makers working to communicate to an increasingly diversifying audience.
Creative Access website
Creative Access is a not-for-profit that supports BAME (Black, Asian, Minority Ethnic) graduates into employment through internships and to date has placed over 850 interns with over 300 employers, with 84% going into full time employment after completing their internship. Creative Access claim too to have supported over 14,000 (yes, 14,000!) candidates with CV advice and interview preparation. The industry has started to put their money where their mouths are, but of course there is still much to do.
D&AD has focused on widening opportunities in education in recent years with their New Blood Shift programme. Rather sidestepping the issue of working with higher education to do the right thing, D&AD make some bold claims, that may seem a tad dismissive of formal design education; ‘Talent doesn’t need a university degree, or A levels’, is the claim, ‘Talent pours our pints, serves our meals and delivers our post’. D&AD Shift seeks talented individuals prepared to attend ‘night school’ for a life-changing and career-making experience. Described as ‘unconventional’, their recruits number almost 50 from two years of the programme, supported by Leo Burnett with AKQA, Design Bridge, BBC Creative, Iris and Havas. For an organisation that runs as an educational charity that may seem like a relatively small number, but from small beginnings…?

But what, you may ask, is higher education doing to address the challenges of diversifying recruitment to courses in art, design and media? Most universities, with creative subjects at their core, have started to address the issue – University of the Arts London has forged an Equality and Diversity Framework setting the university’s commitment to promote equality and diversity and has worked hard in the past to promote the work of black alumni creating, with Shades of Noir (founded by Aisha Richards to promote cultural currency), an exhibition called ‘Happening to Be’ showcasing filmmaking, advertising, fine art and fashion created entirely by black students.
However, UAL’s own chancellor Grayson Perry has been vocal about the low numbers of students from diverse backgrounds – ‘we need a more diverse spread of art students’ he told Times Higher Education earlier this year. Despite the work being undertaken by universities, positive change simply isn’t happening swiftly enough for some critics.
And change isn’t just being led by academies alone; students are standing up and being counted. Katie Jones, a graphic design graduate from Manchester School of Art this year, launched FRESH magazine to celebrate black, Asian and minority ethnic designers across the world. “It was four years before I had my first lecture from a BAME designer, and I felt I needed to do something about it,” she told MMU’s Degree Show Spotlight team last month. There is a strong sense that students are now demanding greater diversity in their teaching teams as well as across student cohorts.

Glossy deliciousness. @laurengoldsby flicking through our first mock up.
A post shared by Fresh Magazine (@fressshmagazine) on Nov 28, 2017 at 7:17am PST

At Ravensbourne University London, where I am Dean of the Design School, we are not complacent – 95% of our students come from state schools, 15% of our students are mature, often returning to education because of the value a degree and a portfolio of work holds in pursuing a career in the creative industries, and 17% of our students are registered as disabled.
Our BAME intake reaches 39%, against a sector average of only 14%, and annual government figures show that an average of 95% of Ravensbourne graduates are working in a relevant job within the creative industries within six months of graduating. How do we recruit higher numbers of BAME students? Outreach teams go into schools to talk about who we are, show what we do and explain what the scope of careers across the creative industries can be. Almost 10% of our expenditure is ring-fenced for bursaries and student support – ways and means of supporting students to embark upon study and then in staying on the course, should things get tough along the way.
Rethinking and updating the curriculum is also vital in ensuring that students from diverse backgrounds can thrive in their studies and during their time at design school. We believe, whatever your cultural background, that to thrive and succeed in tomorrow’s creative industries the ability to think creatively and holistically with advanced emotional intelligence are as vital as being able to harness the technologies and skills needed for an evolving and sustainable career.
Professor Lawrence Zeegen is Dean of the Design School, Ravensbourne University London, @lawrencezeegenThe post Why art schools must diversify their student intake appeared first on Creative Review.
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