For the few months we’ve been closely following the situation at the Barbican Centre, and the steps the institution has taken in response to the numerous accounts of racism from former and current employees.
As an organisation working closely with them (we’re now over halfway through our 3-year Community Collaborator partnership), reading the deeply upsetting accounts within Barbican Stories has had a profound impact on staff, members, and trustees. For some, the stories resonated with their own experiences. For others, it was a stark reminder of the privileges and power structures that need dismantling. We stand in support of all those who bravely shared in the publication.
We of course had plenty of questions for the Barbican, but we also had some of our own internally. Namely: do we move forward in this partnership; and, if yes, how? And how can we also do better in our own work around equity, diversity and inclusion at Headway East London?
We recognize that systematic racism and discrimination continues to exist in large (and small) institutions like the Barbican. There is still lots to be done around challenging existing workplaces cultures, policies and procedures, and our own assumptions and behaviours wherever we work. We also acknowledge that the members we support at Headway East London are often disproportionately affected by these issues as part of intersectionality of their experience; meaning we can and should play a more active role in advocating for change.
We started by having conversations. Members and staff both met with the Barbican to hear more about individual teams’ responses and the institution’s 10-point action plan. We also met a number of times together as a staff team to reflect on the process and come to a decision on the partnership where everyone understood its context and felt able to contribute towards it.
A big part of our work with the Barbican over the last two years has been around challenging the inequality which has always existed within the arts. Our focus was primarily issues around disability and ableism, but we’ve also touched upon wider questions of accessibility, intersectionality and elitism. We want to use this expertise to contribute to wider change within the Barbican. We believe that working in collaboration with different community groups boasting a variety of lived experiences could help to shift attitudes; enabling our partners, including the Barbican Centre to think differently and move towards a more inclusive future.
We have agreed actions as a team to monitor this transition. We’ll be holding the Barbican to account on their 10-point action plan; asking for regular updates and reviewing our partnership if we don’t see the necessary progress happening. We also want to open the discussion up further; reaching out to other community partners and other Barbican employees, ensuring we get a wider range of perspectives in this process.
Within Headway East London, we’ll continue to prioritise our work around equity, diversity and inclusion (EDI). We’re reviewing our EDI group made up of staff, trustees, volunteers and members to ensure all involved feel supported and have the agency and confidence to contribute. We will also continue to create spaces for staff to talk about their experiences on a regular basis, whilst looking at ways we can introduce this to our members.
We all have work to do. We’re hopeful that these initial steps will play a role in challenging pervasive discrimination and driving the change that is long overdue.