Arts in Wales are 'lagging behind' in diversity

By Nicola Smith
BBC News

Media caption,
"Is it ok for me to enter this place where there don't seem to be other ethnic minorities?"

The arts in Wales do not represent its people and the country is "lagging behind" in promoting diversity, a theatre boss has said.

Cardiff-based artistic director Abdul Shayek moved from London seven years ago and said he notices differences.

He recently ran a project to give more opportunities to ethnic minority groups.

The Arts Council of Wales said broadening access has been given "increased emphasis" in its plans.

Mr Shayek, who set up the Fio theatre company in 2015 to tell diverse stories, said: "I don't think the sector is representative of the communities and people who live here.

"Coming from London, I see that. I feel that. We are lagging behind."

His project "Declaration" was for actors and writers in response to a perceived lack of opportunity for ethnic minority artists and under-represented groups.

Nazma Ali from Swansea took part because she has wanted to be a writer for years but felt excluded.

"There's a hierarchy. You think, would I mix?" she said.

"Is it ok for me to enter this place where there don't seem to be other ethnic minorities?

"Will they accept me? You have to try a little bit harder and although you're seen, it's very hard to actually take it forward."

However, she said mixing with other creative people in similar situations has helped.

The project was funded by the Arts Council of Wales, with free classes and a £400 bursary for participants.

Image source, Only Boys Aloud
Image caption,
Junior choir Only Boys Aloud gave an opportunity for youngsters - many from deprived backgrounds - to perform

This funding helped Hannah Lloyd, 22, from Treorchy, in Rhondda Cynon Taff, travel to take part but she is struggling to find opportunities closer to home.

"I can't afford to come to catch a train to Cardiff for these opportunities but yet no one is bringing these opportunities to my front door," she said.

"So people from a working class background don't get access to those opportunities, so then more and more the industry is becoming middle class."

Ms Lloyd said the words theatre or arts are "taboo subjects" where she comes from, with people reluctant to watch shows.

"To break down those barriers you have to do work in those communities," she added.

Mr Shayek believes there is a commitment to increase diversity but that the pace of change is too slow.

"There's a real lack of resource, a lack of education and understanding," he said.

Image caption,
The Sherman Theatre in Cardiff commissioned only four Welsh language plays between 2013 and September 2017

"More often than not, rural communities are isolated and don't encounter people who're different, in terms of race, ethnicity and disability."

Mr Shayek called for action on conversations about race, diversity and equality so the arts "truly represent the Wales I know".

An Arts Council of Wales spokesman said it supports a range of performances reflecting Wales' diversity.

"We would, however, be the first to recognise that there is currently insufficient work to meet the interests and needs of these communities," he added.

He said broadening access has been given increased emphasis in its future plans, with more investment set to come for the creative work of black and minority ethnic artists, disabled artists and Welsh language works.

"We aspire to be a society that embraces equality of opportunity and works to make that real for those currently enduring poverty or social disadvantage," added the spokesman.