Launch event for the Arts Council ‘Open Up’ report on the experiences of Black artists in Ireland

The report: ‘Open Up: Barriers to funding and opportunities for Black and Black-Irish artists’

In 2022, concern about inequalities in the Awards Data at the Arts Council prompted the commissioning of a report to investigate the reasons for applications from a disproportionate number of Black artists being deemed ‘ineligible’ compared to artists from other ethnic backgrounds.

We found that patterns of racial discrimination in the Irish labour market are reflected in the arts sector. Black artists with equivalent experience and qualifications are offered fewer opportunities & less information and are widely excluded from professional networks. 

The launch event

The launch event on Tuesday 23 April brought together a panel of Black artists to discuss the findings and our recommendations, moderated by Arts Council member Melatu-Uche Okorie as panel chair, and artists Joe Odiboh, Esosa Ighodaro, Dafe Orugbo, Ashley Chadamoyo Makombe, and Aisha Bolaji for their responses to the report. Many thanks to all of them for their engagement with the report’s finding and recommendations, and creating a strong opening dialogue with the audience and Arts Council staff to inform the Arts Council’s next steps.

Listen to artist Dafe Orugbo on RTE Morning Ireland responding to our report.

The event was introduced by the Interim Head of Equality, Diversity and Inclusion at the Arts Council, Hannah Gordis, and Director of Strategic Development Deirdre Behan, who responded to questions on immediate work inside the Arts Council in response to the report (such as a review of the application process, and an increase in supports for first-time applicants) and a forthcoming plan to implement recommendations within the Arts Council and across the arts sector.

What did we find?

We reviewed the application process and found that ineligible applications from Black artists were mainly in one new cohort of first-time applicants, but that on the whole, participation by Black artists in the awards application process had previously been lower than for other groups.

We identified a number of questions for further examination, including: (1) why were ineligible applications mainly in a new cohort of Black artists who were young, male and applying for music awards and (2) why were Black female artists overall more likely to receive awards than female artists from other ethnic groups, but less likely to apply until they were well-established artists?

Our report reflects the findings of a series of interviews with Black artists and arts organisations supporting Black artists. The findings highlight the persistence of discrimination and the impact of social closure amongst professional arts networks, and the effects on how Black artists get to know the Arts Council, access information about how to apply successfully for awards, and secure the necessary elements (venues, programme slots, references, etc.) for a successful application.

The data we investigated on ineligibility actually showed positively that there had been an increase in Black male music artists applying to the Arts Council for the first time. But why did outreach efforts to this group result in failure instead of success for this new group? 

The Arts Council application process is well-known to be difficult to navigate and complete, with applicants highly reliant on information and support from formal and informal artists networks in almost every art form and genre. Without that support, 1st time applicants fail. 

The Arts Council has only relatively recently recognized the need to confront the negative effects of relying on those informal networks, and the way in which it reinforces wider patterns of exclusion. Their equality analysis of awards data since 2021 underpins this recognition. 

Black artists and Arts organizations working with Black artists shared 100s of examples with us of how discriminatory behavior affects their entry to and ability to compete in the publicly-funded arts landscape in Ireland. 

The cumulative effect of this discrimination creates an interlinked series of barriers to Black artists at all stages of careers to secure the roles, venues, programme spots, references and professional memberships which are expected in applying for public arts funding. 

So a *positive* thing that more Black artists applying, but now a need to address the discrimination across the sector that undermines their capacity to compete fairly, including reform of the application system and work with arts organizations to address discrimination. 

The data also showed that Black female artists are *more* successful than other ethnic groups, but there are (proportionally) far fewer and more likely to be very well established in their careers albeit without a history of public funding. 

We found Black female artists are persistently excluded from social & professional networks, not elsewhere receiving the informal mentoring that comes with those networks and not being recognized and guided towards public funding until they already winning awards elsewhere. 

There is a huge wealth of Black talent in this country, in the arts sector, and the publicly funded arts *will* hugely benefit from outreach and anti-discrimination measures. Black artists in Ireland are actively developing, showing and promoting their work, and some are winning awards and even significant funding in other countries *as Irish artists*. The Irish arts sector is losing out as long as we do not recognize that talent here.
This is not news to organizations working with Black artists already. 

We were commissioned by the Arts Council to carry out this research based on our experience in this area, and our previous work (and robust recommendations) on equality data with the Council. The research is a much needed prompt for change within the Arts Council and arts sector 

This research would not exist without the expertise and experience shared with us by the Black artists in Ireland who worked with us on it.
It is crucial that the arts sector now work directly with them to implement the recommendations of this report. 

Read the full report here or the short summary here

You are welcome to contact us with any questions you have about the report. Queries about the Arts Council’s work in response to our recommendations should be directed to Hannah Gordis at the Arts Council.