Statement – 13th March 2020
Critics’ Club exists to promote equal access to arts and culture for all young people. We want young people to feel welcome in cultural spaces and develop the skills and confidence to access the works within them. Many, if not all, of the young people we work with will have not been to a theatre or gallery in years – for some it will be their first time. As an organisation, we also work to spotlight the cultural elitism and structural inequalities within the arts industry, with the aim of breaking down barriers and building a sector that is diverse, inclusive and accessible for all. Therefore, we feel it is appropriate and important to comment publicly on an incident that took place on a recent cultural trip.
After attending a trip to a cultural organisation, two young people later reported to our programme facilitator that on their arrival to the venue, they were pulled aside and questioned by a security guard. They asked them who they were with and what they were doing there. They both felt that they had been unfairly targeted, given that the group had arrived all together, along with two adults. Tickets to all Critics’ Club trips are booked in advance through emailing venues directly, so the venue’s staff should have been aware that a group of young people would be attending at that time. Indeed, we would argue that it should not be surprising for young people to be visiting such spaces at any time.
As the two young critics were black and the security guard was white, they both felt that they were being racially profiled in this cultural space. For people of colour, these incidents of microaggressions are, sadly, not uncommon and form part of their daily lived experiences. They are hypervisible, and their bodies policed more heavily than their white peers. It saddens us to think of the longer-term impact this experience may have on the students and their relationship to cultural venues more generally.
We have spoken to the venue involved who were very quick to respond and apologise deeply for the incident; they acknowledged that the incident was very troubling and committed to a further investigation with their external security agency, requesting that the guards are re-trained before being sent to them. They also explained how they are working to change their internal practices in response to the incident, re-evaluating how they recruit and train their own in-house team. Furthermore, we have ensured that the young people involved were informed that they did nothing wrong and that these situations should always be reported. While this does not undo any of the harm caused, we believe this conversation with the venue was constructive, allowing the team to recognise the harm caused and oppression perpetuated, and to focus on learning from the incident to implement measures for positive change.
We write this post not to ‘call out’, ‘cancel’ or burn bridges, but rather to add to the ongoing constructive conversation about how we can create more welcoming and inclusive cultural environments. We see this as an opportunity for the organisation in question, as well as leaders in the sector, to learn and address the way ‘security’ and inclusion can impact on a visitor’s experience of the space. While our programme works hard to bring new voices into cultural spaces, there must also be a shift from the cultural and creative community itself towards ensuring it construct cultural spaces that are truly welcoming. If you would like to share your thoughts with us, please email firstname.lastname@example.org or tweet us at @critics_club.