Does art education favor racial inequalities in the sector? Researchers investigate

·2-min read
A study found that children in UK schools were introduced to visual art by teachers who were mainly white (94%).

While the art sector is often singled out for its lack of diversity, new research in the UK is investigating the reasons behind this recurrent problem. In its sight is art education in UK schools, which could contribute to racial inequalities in the industry.

The Runnymede Trust, a racial equality think tank, and the charitable arts organization Freelands Foundation, have joined forces to conduct a study about how and why Black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) students are excluded from art education in the UK. The report hopes to "catalyze" long-term structural change in the arts sector. Its first findings will be published this fall.

Although artists like Sonia Boyce, Steve McQueen and Lubaina Himid have successfully established themselves in the art world, just 2.7% of the sector's workforce come from a BAME background, according to official statistics. This worrying imbalance could be partly explained by the art education received by pupils in British schools.

"Black, Asian and ethnically diverse students face significant obstacles to studying art at every stage of their educational journey, not least because of a striking lack of representation in the curriculum and in art educators," says Elisabeth Murdoch, founder and chair of Freelands Foundation.

Appreciating diversity in the arts

This two-year research program will notably examine art education in secondary schools in the UK, gathering data on racial inequalities among students and teachers, and within the curriculum. In 2017, the country's Department for Education recorded that children in UK schools -- of whom around a third were "minority ethnic" -- were introduced to visual art by teachers who were mainly white (94%).

Moreover, the research will focus particularly on students age 11 to 16 in order to observe the transition from compulsory to elective art education. "Our school students are a blank canvas. It is imperative they are able to see and appreciate diversity in art," explains Dr Halima Begum, the director of the Runnymede Trust. "This project will lend important data and evidence to the thus-far sparse study of equity and inclusion in the UK art sector."

The final report will include a set of guidelines, recommendations and plans for teaching and training resources. The aim is to give arts and education organizations the tools to enact long-term structural changes towards greater inclusion in the arts. "If we can go to Mars, we can send more kids to art school," the Black British artist and Freelands ambassador Sonia Boyce, told The Art Newspaper.

Caroline Drzewinski