Does England’s Creative Coast Care About Racism?
The answer turned out to be an interesting balance of possibly and, well, no, not very much. I picked the organisation known as “England’s Creative Coast” as a sample rather than looking over Hastings’ galleries, because ECC says things like: “The South East of England boasts some of the best culture in the world” and “through England’s Creative Coast, internationally-renowned artists will create something completely new”. Those are big claims.
Of the seven institutions that make up ECC, the Towner Eastbourne, De La Warr Pavilion, and Turner Contemporary in Margate have made explicit statements of intent regarding solidarity, anti-racism, equality and inclusion. They also say things like, “as an organisation we recognise that we still have considerable work to do” (Turner website). This is the kind of response we want to be seeing, but also we won’t know what their promises are worth until months down the line, when we’ve seen some exhibition programmes, events, social media posts, and other possible indicators of a new attitude.
The Hastings Contemporary recently joined them, bringing the number up to four, and HC’s statement links in to the Arts Council and CVAN’s commitments. I mention the HC separately because the local gallery in the Source BMX park, Flatland Projects called them out on Instagram over their lack of response to Black Lives Matter statements and protests. It’s since then that we’ve seen a statement and an ‘inclusive’ Instagram post go up. A similar thing may have happened with other ECC institutions also, though the Towner seemed to be pretty on-point in its responses.
You might be asking now, why the report? Why the witch-hunt? They’re only county arts institutions, they’re not promoting white supremacists… what more do we want?
I’ll remind you: “best culture in the world” and “international” and “contemporary”. How can the best, international, contemporary culture in the world, primarily focus on white people?
That middle-class white people, with the huge number of advantages we get growing up in Europe and the US, should represent most of the content of our “international” South Coast galleries is not particularly surprising. We’re still classist, racist, sexist – it’s endemic to Britain’s social system and that’s only changing slowly. Of course these bastions of traditionalist prosperity and cultural imperialism would have some work to do after noticing Black Lives Matter. We all have work to do.
The point of mentioning information in this way, the point of Black Lives Matter protests, is to draw attention to the facts and the inequalities we prefer to ignore, and the resolution of inequalities that we prefer to delay with promises.
ECC, and Britain generally, only cares enough to make these statements because people called out, shouted out, made noise. We will sink back into the status quo when that noise is not maintained.
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