“You get all your work because your black” spouted the bullish bald diminutive head of an Essex arts centre, as his glass of wine jabbed and swayed precariously in front of his spiky bespectacled pink forehead. His loosened tongue had found itself tangled around a twisted idea confounded by oxygen and ego. But here he was in the majority so it didn't matter. And the majority never feel like the majority until a minority, by surreptitiously breathing, reminds them.
I was affronted that someone in his position could come to a conclusion which was so wildly inaccurate and ill informed. I enlightened him that it would be my pleasure to spread his insights to others including his funders. If he could make that assumption of an artist such as myself then what assumptions does he make of the community who may use his arts centre as consumers or artists. I informed him that racism is discovered in the lack of reason (more than the presence of fact).
I'd spent the week teaching traumatised children from the North East who were fast asleep upstairs. I stood in the kitchen at Arvon in Heptonstall – once the home of Ted Hughes where Sylvia Plaith is buried – and glared at this little white man, a stopover guest of my co-tutor on this one black night in deepest Yorkshire. The Arvon foundation is everything that this little man is not. But the saddest thing about my response is that it happened late at night as the children slept, and the house at Arvon is porous.
It was some years ago and thankfully I don't drink anymore: on the following morning he apologised and said he hadn't slept all night for worrying. I informed him that I wouldn't be calling anyone and I apologised too, for being drunk. A couple of months later I found myself performing at his arts centre. I didn't want to be there but my agent had booked it as part of some tour and there was nothing I could do.
It is people like him who misrepresent the arts and the arts council. The question is will he find solice in Jeremy Hunt's speech covered in the Daily Mail this week regarding future cuts in arts funding? I quote: “We must move on from the box-ticking targets approach, saying if you get a certain number of people from certain backgrounds you can win a certain amount [of funding],' he told delegates at the Media Festival Arts conference.
The arts council has never had a box ticking approach but the noble belief in art for all and all for art. I imagine the embittered little man filling in his evaluation sheet where my performance becomes part of a fulfillment criteria that has never believed in. The powerful may never feel like describing themselves in terms of colour/gender/sexuality or at all (!) because they feel invisible lest they stand next to us. It is time for the truly invisible to stand up because the wrath is upon us based on a lack of reason (more than the presence of fact).