Akasha Daley of Mandala Young Company. Photo by Stu Allsopp.

Cultural organisations in Oxford have come together to tackle racism and address “a lack of representation of people from the Global Majority working in the arts”.

The Oxford Cultural Anti-Racism Alliance is the result, a new anti-racist coalition of 21 Oxford cultural organisations who have been working “holistically and collaboratively” to create a manifesto and programme of work to address “deep-rooted and systematic racism within the cultural sector.”

According to the Oxford Cultural Anti-Racism Alliance, the 22% of Oxford’s population in the Global Majority are not represented in the leadership of its arts organisations.

This new manifesto outlines a vision and plan to change this through organisational practice, education, training, and the creation of schemes to support artistic development and leadership within the Global Majority.

“So often, anti-racist work and action involves white people talking about people from the Global Majority. This manifesto is different”

21 key arts and cultural organisations have signed up to the manifesto so far and more, of all sizes, are making a commitment to do so.

Yasmin Sidhwa, Artistic Director of Mandala Theatre Company and Oxford Cultural Alliance Steering Committee member said: We knew that what we did needed to be radical. There was no more time for just talking, we needed radical action. In coming together there was real and genuine collaboration as well as a will to make things different. Not just a declaration of intent but an action plan.” 

As March 21 is the UN International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, it is fitting that Oxford’s cultural organisations are now making a stand and launching their Anti-Racism Manifesto. 

Nelvin Kiratu with Mandala Young Company. Photo by Stu Allsopp.

Covid 19 changed the face of culture all over the country. Following the first lockdown last year, longstanding inequalities in the industry were exposed more than ever – change was overdue,” an alliance spokesperson explained.

As for the manifesto itself, it pledges a commitment to change systems, practices and cultures in order to remove racial discrimination.

“Oxford should be a place where young people from the Global Majority can see positive role models, find a route into a career in the arts and establish a strong base for growth and development alongside and within the cultural organisations established here,” they continue. “This will ensure a healthy, sustainable and, most importantly, diverse arts sector in the city and beyond.” 

“This manifesto is just the start – it’s a catalyst for change”

Steering committee members include: Arts at the Old Fire Station, Fusion Arts Kuumba Nia Arts, Mandala Theatre Company, Modern Art Oxford, Oxford City Council Oxford Playhouse, The North Wall Arts Centre and Unlock the Chains Collective

Other signatories include: Ark-T Centre, Cowley Road Works, Creation Theatre, Film Oxford, IF Oxford, Justice in Motion, Music at Oxford, OVADA, Oxford Age Friendly Creative Network, Oxford Contemporary Music, Pegasus Theatre, Photography Oxford, Story Museum, Tandem Collective and the Ultimate Picture Palace.

Ashanti Wheeler-Artwell of Arts at the Old Fire Station who was involved in drafting the manifesto says: So often, anti-racist work and action involves white people talking about people from the Global Majority. This manifesto is different: it is a collaborative piece which centres people from the Global Majority, with white British people as allies.

“inequalities in the arts have been part of my lived experience for all of my artistic life”

“We are speaking for ourselves, dictating the change, the pace of the change and the language we use, without our words being diluted. And white British people are also doing the work, starting the process of having and leading the conversations that need to be held without necessarily waiting for people of the Global Majority to be in the room to have them.”

Akasha Daley as Antigone in Mandala Young Company. Photo by Stu Allsopp.

Laura Elliot, Programme Director at Oxford Playhouse and Oxford Cultural Alliance Steering Committee member said: This manifesto is just the start – it’s a catalyst for change, and Oxford Playhouse are grateful to be collaboratively steering this change alongside committed people and organisations across Oxford” 

Amantha Edmead, founder of Kuumba Nia Arts said: The inequalities in the arts have been part of my lived experience for all of my artistic life through drama school and beyond. Now 30 years on it is powerful and refreshing to see Oxford cultural organisations taking action to create positive change for all artists.” 

Having workiedprofessionally in the arts for nearly 40 years as a cultural leader, I have always felt isolated being the only one in the room

Sean Duvall, Director of Cowley Road Works, which organises the Cowley Road Carnival, confirmed the charity’s utmost support for the manifesto, he said: Cowley Road Works has always been a strident supporter of equal rights for all, regardless of race, gender or background. Zero tolerance of racism is right at the core of everything we do, and bringing the community together is what we are all about.”

Euton Daley, founder of Unlock the Chains Collective said:Having worked professionally in the arts for nearly 40 years as a cultural leader, I have always felt isolated being the only one in the room. This is a pivotal moment, working with Oxford’s cultural organisations to make a real difference for artists from the Global Majority and to change the future of culture forever.”

Euton Daley

The Oxford Cultural Alliance Anti-Racism Manifesto will be online from March 19 at https://www.oxcultureantiracism.co.uk.

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