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How important is the BAME vote to arts organisations?

By Ngoma Bishop, Voluntary Chief Officer the Black & Ethnic Minority Arts Network (BEMA)

In light of the impending General Elections in 2015 we see how extremely important our political vote will be to ensure the continuation and stability of our work. The Black and Ethnic Minority Arts Network (BEMA), also known as ‘the arts in harmony network’ is an informal alliance of individual artists, arts organisations, promoters, producers and others with an interest in improving availability of quality art to the public and of developing cultural activity as a means of promoting tolerance, equality and education.

When a society is comprised of diverse elements and when that diversity is used to draw down or generate financial resources, the various elements of those communities are entitled to expect those resources to be allocated more or less in proportion to their numbers. The reality is far removed from the expectation. In fact although the 2012 Olympics and Paralympics Games were won by London mainly because of the emphasis put on the capital’s diverse cultural mix, there are an ever decreasing number of jobs and educational, arts or sports resources available or accessible to people from some communities. Many of the institutions and gate-keepers elected or appointed to allocate resources and opportunities are well versed in the rhetoric of diversity and equality but in fact are simply (consciously or otherwise) helping to perpetuate the brand of racism and nepotism that most of us are all too familiar with.

The cuts on spending to the art and cultural sector represent a wider trend of cuts all of which has hit Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic  (BAME) communities particularly hard, leading to ever increasing levels of voter apathy. Many, especially among the younger generation, see little point in voting and virtually no faith in politicians.

In 2014 it will have been 100 years since the outbreak of WW1, a war that saw millions of people from the old Commonwealth contributing to the British war effort. Those people (many of whom lost their lives in the course of the conflict) would surely have expected their descendants to by now be enjoying representation in Parliament roughly proportional to their numbers and certainly be more adequately reflected in the formulation and implementation of Government policies than is the case today.

In fact, with a consequence of the Government’s current austerity measures being increasingly scarce resources available to the public at large, some community organisations are losing out much more than others.

Yet all the major political parties seem to be angling for the increasingly precious BAME vote, given that the next election will likely be closely fought and it will be interesting to hear what they have in their manifestos for addressing current imbalances.

As an arts network, BEMA is naturally primarily concerned about the lack of resources or investment in the much celebrated ‘cultural diversity’ we hear so much about. Yet we realise that we cannot discuss the need for more funding of BAME led arts and culture organisations, without giving consideration to the wider political dynamics.

We are holding an event on Wednesday 23rd October in the House of Commons which will provide an opportunity for key issues to be discussed. Issues such as:

  1. The degree of parliamentary representation relative to the size of the BEMA community in the UK

  2. The significance of the BAME communities exercising or not exercising their hard won right to vote in UK

Local Government, national Government and European elections and how this can affect more equitable delivery of services to UK citizens. All the major political parties have been invited to send a representative.  The key note speech will be delivered by Simon Woolley of Operation Black Vote.

The admittance to the event is by booking only through Eventbrite. To book click here

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