Britain’s culture secretary is rarely shy of a controversial headline to curl the corners of our collective lips upwards. Whether it is an undeclared trip at a lap dancing club or a six month relationship with someone that he ‘was unaware’ was a dominatrix sex worker; John Whittingdale often appears to be a relatively harmless politician who’s blood flow spends too much time elsewhere and so doesn’t always quite make it to his brain.
A recent headline that caught our eye recently is more troubling than the odd sex scandal and actually gives us an insight into the lack of diversity at the top of the creative world.
Recently there was a position opening on the board of the National Portrait Gallery, one of Britain’s foremost arts organisations, and in the selection process Whittingdale has been accused of intervening because candidates that he had endorsed were not selected for the shortlist.
In a leaked letter from sir David Norman, a former Commissioner of Public Appointments (a position with the intention of ensuring candidates are awarded employment based on merit), Whittingdale should not consider candidates’ “political activity” or “give them preferential consideration”.
It should therefore come as no surprise that three of the five candidates selected by the Culture Secretary were Conservative donors or supporters and that one was a former Tory minister. It seems that rather than the right person for the job being selected; it really is about who you know.
In the wake of the #OscarsSoWhite campaign, there is a call for diversity in the higher levels of creative institutions so that equal opportunity for representation should trickle down through the entire system. It should be made known that there is no suggestion that Whittingdale has even a hint of racial or gender bias, though it still stands to reason that preferential treatment by those in the higher level is the enemy of equal opportunity.
In the uphill struggle that is success in the creative world, especially for minorities, an intervention like this, allegedly based on political affiliation, supports the belief that a fair and diverse selection process is not yet a reality. This being said it is imperative that we continue to show that there is a multicultural ocean of talent available at all levels of the creative ladder, we will work tirelessly to show that the very best cannot be cast aside for preferential treatment and that we will not be hired just because we are diverse but because we’re brilliant.