Breaking Down Barriers: house reflects

When venues exist for the enjoyment and creativity of audiences, it’s hard to get your head around the fact that venues can also inadvertently overlook various audiences. Access and Inclusion are important areas for improvement in the arts.

Last month house attended Breaking Down Barriers, a conference hosted by The Garage in Norwich. It was organised as a way of facilitating valuable discussion and giving practical guidance. The day began with a video introduction from Jess Thom of Touretteshero, and was followed by a series of discussions by leaders in the field including The Roundhouse, Attitude is Everything and Frozen Light Theatre. The room was filled with incredible people.

The Garage, as host, was endearingly humble in its openness and willingness to learn, and created a safe environment for real and honest conversations.

A prominent message from the day was: by keeping calm and carrying on, venues are unwittingly supporting the barriers that resist access. Audience growth and development are key to venues’ survival, and by choosing not to open up, a valuable area of audience development is left to stagnate.

But how do we make different communities feel welcome, and make our venues more accessible?

We’ve put together some main tips we took away from the day:

Be open to change and welcome disturbance. Ensure your customer- facing members of staff welcome questions and constructive criticism and know who to pass it on to. Make sure your website is friendly and has a specific page and contact for access enquiries.

Your attitude is worth more than your money. If you’re using money as an excuse not to action something, make sure you’ve got the right attitude about change and are doing everything you can that doesn’t cost. There are many cost-effective methods to make sure people are welcome.

Make sure your entire staff recognise that everyone is different and embed inclusion into their work. Some members of staff might be driven by statistics and the ‘majority’ of people who walk through the door; it can be a financially viable way of thinking. However, it’s important to make sure everyone is also aware of the values of the organisation, and teach them how to embed this into their work too.

We do have a long way to go in every industry, from recruitment processes to relaxed performances, and there are staggering statistics and anecdotes which can influence thinking, but above all we need to accommodate our venues and empower our staff so that the work we create and showcase can be seen by all.

Here is a link to the resources created from the conference, plus a manifesto of delegate thoughts.

The Garage
(image: The Garage in Norwich, host for Breaking Down Barriers 2017)

© house, November 2017