By Charlotte Jones, CEO of ITC
In our family on the shortest day (21st December) we light a Solstice fire and throw into it (with little homemade explosive packages) the things we want to get rid of from the year. I will have five ‘bombs’ to facilitate my purge and we are not allowed to throw in people (bad karma – no, not even Donald Trump!).
So I have been reflecting on the five things I will consign to the Solstice flames for ITC and the Independent Theatre sector from 2017:
1) Abuse of power – Sexual harassment, bullying and oppressive behaviour that have gone unchallenged for decades have been exposed this year in many sectors. High unemployment and a culture of celebrity that sets the behaviour bar too low for maverick artistic leaders have created unhealthy power relationships that have enabled this abuse. In the arts this behaviour can be subtle and pernicious. The unreasonable power dynamic that fosters a culture of disrespect and abuse is going into the fire to make way for an arts sector that values safety and dignity at work.
2) Artificial Hierarchies – The Independent sector is often beset by a sense of being bottom of the pile. Typical myths: buildings have more power than touring companies, work for adults is more important than work for young people, participation is the poor relation, London is the centre of the universe…. These are artificial hierarchies and they are going into the fire to make way for an arts sector that recognises brilliant artistic practice right across scale, focus, artform, audience and the whole of the UK. Hull City of Culture has given us the inspiration.
3) Continuing inequality – The arts sector dabbles in diversity and makes incremental bits of progress but at artistic leadership level it is still very white, very male and very ruling class. The pace of change is glacial and the tendency to keep taking backwards steps is frustrating. Our persistent failure to properly address diversity and achieve real equality across the sector is going in the fire to make way for a confidently multi-cultural, gender equal, disability friendly, open-minded, open-doored, thriving arts world. Kwame Kwei-Armah at the Young Vic is an exciting development.
4) Despair over Brexit – We seem to be reluctantly accepting that Brexit will happen even though there is no coherent plan. No-one dares challenge the madness at a political level because they will be accused of being ‘an enemy of the people’. The arts world collectively feels desperate about the potential impact of Brexit yet we seem to be accepting that we just have to make the best of this shockingly bad job. Resignation and despair over the seemingly inevitable disaster of Brexit is going into the fire before it is too late. There must be more that we can do, and we must pick ourselves up and do it!
5) Exhaustion – Everyone I talk to at the moment seems exhausted. People in this sector work exceptionally hard and keep battling on under difficult conditions. I think the deep exhaustion comes from never having the time to reflect and feeling unrecognised. So that worn-out, under-valued feeling is going into the fire to make space for reflection and celebration of the real power and extra-ordinary value of the people who work in the independent theatre sector.
Many of the events of 2017 have thrown the extreme injustices of this world into sharp relief - inequality, institutional unfairness, failure to care, ignoring people whose voices should be heard. 2018 can not be a clean slate. It must be a year where we hold ourselves properly to account as a civilised society and bring about the real change that needs to happen. Hope lies in awareness, responsibility and will to action.