News: Read Susanna Eastburn's speech

Royal Northern College of Music
Produced by: 
BBC Radio 3, BASCA, the BBC Philharmonic and the Royal Northern College of Music, and in association with the BBC Black and Asian Forum

Susanna Eastburn, CEO of Sound and Music, presented a speech at BBC Radio 3's Diversity and Inclusion conference at the Royal Northern College of Music in Manchester today. 

The event, hosted in partnership with BBC Radio 3, BASCA, the BBC Philharmonic and the Royal Northern College of Music, and in association with the BBC Black and Asian Forum, is addressing how to increase opportunities for the next generation of composers, and how the industry can best ensure inclusion and diversity of talent.

Other speakers include:  composers Daniel Kidane; Jeffrey Mumford; Priti Paintal; Shirley J Thompson; Errollyn Wallen; and Raymond Yiu; as well as BBC Radio 3 Controller, Alan Davey; the BBC’s Head of Diversity, Inclusion and Succession, Tunde Ogungbesan; BASCA CEO, Vick Bain; Michelle Castelletti, Artistic Director at the Royal Northern College of Music; Sound And Music Chief Executive, Susanna Eastburn; The Chineke! Foundation founder, Chi-chi Nwanoku; and Toks Dada, Programme Coordinator at Town Hall, Symphony Hall, Birmingham.

Susanna's Eastburn's speech - 19th October 2016

" I want to start on a positive note.

The musical encounters and programming that occur when diversity is embraced are fascinating and thrilling, and not to be feared or problematized.

But all too often we need to look below the line to find them.

As public organisations – and I include Sound and Music in that – we are behind the curve in embracing this huge creative opportunity.

For an organisation like Sound and Music, whose raison d’etre is supporting composers and nurturing talent – we cannot duck our responsibility to keep the talent pool as wide and open as possible.

To be clear, we cannot succeed as an organisation, without rising joyfully to this challenge.

In 2015-16, over 550 composers applied to a Sound and Music programme. The data behind me tells us that our average applicant is a London-based 25-34 year old white male with a PhD who has already applied to Sound and Music before. (We love you guys, but...)

We received *no* applications from composers of Indian, Pakistani or Bangladeshi heritage, despite the fact – not brilliant in itself – that over 50% of our applications came from London, one of the most culturally diverse cities in the world.

And we weren’t great in other areas as well. This is despite bending over backwards to be open and transparent in our processes and criteria - which makes me suspect that our diversity data is actually better than most, given what Vick and BASCA have said about this.

These statistics are unacceptable to us. (and by the way, this is what happens when you collect and listen to data.)

It’s led us to three things:

Firstly, we hold ourselves to account, we own the problem, we don't shy away from the detail. For us, this means publishing this data annually, and being really honest about our progress, whether good or not.

Secondly, leaving this to incremental change will just be too slow. We pride ourselves on being open and transparent; but the system is heavily weighted against the encouragement of diversity. So we’ve made an intervention through launching our Pathways programme, aimed at composers from minority ethnic backgrounds. That's an intervention that makes sense in terms of what we do - if we were another kind of organisation, it might be a different intervention.

Thirdly, we have embraced our own need to change, and we’ve recognised that we need to be more courageous in taking action that takes us beyond our usual comfort zones of working with people who are broadly speaking 'like us'. I don't underestimate how difficult that will be.

In fact, I think the sector as a whole needs to become comfortable with being uncomfortable, if we're to achieve lasting change. (And the arts don't have a great history of longevity around diversity initiatives.) 

For me, it is an act of leadership to keep drawing our progress into the spotlight and to hold our hands to the flame.

What's at stake here is one of the biggest risks we face as a sector – or indeed one of our greatest opportunities – we have to work towards looking and feeling more culturally relevant, rather than out of tune with the times we live in.

This is not the first time, nor the last time, that we discuss diversity. (Actually, it's my second conference discussing diversity this week, and it's only Wednesday.)

But on the positive side, I feel that if we get this right - and with the people in this room, we have every chance of that - we may be on the cusp of one of the most musically invigorating periods that we could ever imagine. So there’s everything to play for.

Thank you. "

Follow more from the conference at #divcomp on Twitter 


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