During my placement time, one of the debates that took place as part of the Delegates Program for The Spark Arts for Children was inclusion. Two discussions/sharing of experiences took place under the heading of “Conversations with Communities” and “A new kind of Artist Development”.
While my most common reaction to such topics and debates is that these are very first world problem and hardly have any relevance with my context, what stood out for me was the sensitivity towards the need for inclusion.
“Conversations with Communities” focused on the need to have community engagement with the many migrant groups that have come to call UK their home. The talk was about how Indian communities or the Polish communities for example are unable to connect with the theater at large since they can’t connect with the story or the character, since the majority of the characters are white. And while I don’t disagree with this statement, the question is that isn’t there a danger of isolating a said community as soon as the wind of change blows? Are we treating community engagement as a trend? Would the focus change as soon as there is a new community that needs attention? Therefore wouldn’t it be much better to focus on the whole?
Again these are questions that my lack of experience with such debates puts me in a position where I really don’t have an answer. But it does feel that such an attempt of selected community engagement is very similar to how Black History Month has been cut out as an entirely separate narrative and not being considered as part of a whole.
There is also another problem with debates like these – when we talk so much about the communities not being able to see themselves in the various productions, let it be TV, Films, Theater – are we talking about their inclusion, as in having more colored or ethnic representation? or are we talking about having their narratives being portrayed?
If the former is the case, then I think we are setting ourselves up for a failure. The opportunities that have existed for other ethnic groups, lets say White, have not been there for the rest. They are only now coming up into the field and catching up. As it is, you do see a change in media and the casting – a very small change mind you – Cinderella is now black for the first time, main protagonist on several tv dramas are black (Think How to get away with Murder).
As a Pakistani, this argument does hit home when you think about how Indian Films were opposed from being shown in cinemas – the argument being that our industry will lose out. But the fact remained that our industry was so dead that there was no competition – again the lack of opportunities that others have had that we simply have never availed.
But if we are talking about narratives, then the argument changes completely – for an immigrant story is just that – an immigrant’s story, regardless of whether it is Polish, Indian, Afghani or Pakistani. At its very core it is a story about a person losing home, facing hardships and picking up the pieces to start a new life. So then are we not putting those narratives up there – is that the issue?
Or the issue is simply that there is a lack of understanding of the importance of Art and Culture in our lives? From where I stand, and my experience has been, that is the fundamental issues – what else would explain even free of charge experiences struggling for an audience!