The London theatre world is buzzing with the news that the new Young Vic theatre Artistic Director is Kwame Kwei-Armah.
Gentle Reader, a test: name one other person of colour who is Artistic Director of a major UK theatre building? (answers at end).
I found it notable that in the Evening Standard’s reporting, it failed to mention this aspect of his appointment. I dislike the term “white”. White does not indicate race. It indicates purity. Anything mixed with white equals non-white. White is not a race but a purity indicator.
“Playwrights don't give answers they ask questions” Britain’s greatest living female playwright has said (test two: who’s she?). Surely, a less diverse system is less resilient, less interesting, less human than a more diverse one? It’s more fragile, not anti-fragile.
In the investment world, diversification is as close to a fundamental rule as fund managers could agree upon. In the business world, 12 people in a committee - if all 12 think the same, and agree the same, then 11 of those people are unnecessary. There is a thread of complexity to be followed here.
How do businesses, arts eco-systems and committee decision makers ensure diversity of thinking?
Quotas through the lens of race or gender are a blunt tool, constantly argued over. Still, ignoring race (which the Evening Standard did) does not make it go away. Andrew Lloyd Webber has described theatre as “hideously white”. Kwei-Armah comes from leading Baltimore's Center Stage in the US. He is the only black artistic director in the League of Resident Theatres. The largest US professional theatre association of 70 venues. Kwei-Armah has spoke in favour of quotas suggesting his own work and career was helped by former culture secretary Chris Smith's policy and the Culture Diversity Network.
I’ve seen Kwei-Armah’s work and heard his passion in conversation. I’m convinced he will be a superb leader for the Young Vic. He will also bring much needed diversity to the theatre eco-system making it more resilient, more representative and more interesting in its humanity.
Business can learn from the arts. Diversity of thinking and inclusion lead to better decision making and more engaged employees. Company managements know this. Old white man group-think is prevalent at the top of companies.
There is a wider debate and belief in equality of opportunity. Playwrights and investment managers tend to call it as they see it. We have more to do. Shareholders should be holding boards accountable to ensure diversity and inclusion happens to create more resilient, better companies.
Playwrights ask questions. Perhaps Robert Kennedy had an answer:
“America’s answer to the intolerant man is diversity”
Answers: Madani Younis at the Bush Theatre and Indhu Rubasingham at the Tricycle. Kully Thiarai at National Theatre Wales is non-building (thanks Dawn Walton for pointing that out) so not sure it counts the same. Dawn also points out Nadia Fall recently to Theatre Royal Stratford East (appointed summer 2017). Michael Buffong at Talawa (where I was Chair) also does not count as Talawa has no building. I’ll accept Jatinder Verma at Tara Arts, recently in a building, and Mehmet Ergen at Arcola, though some consider both Fringe. Mehmet is of Turkish origins and I've heard some suggest that's not BAME (ii) Caryl Churchill is Britain’s greatest living female playwright considering her entire oeuvre of work which is unmatched by most living playwrights of any gender or colour.