On 2 June 2020 the Royal Academy made a statement on social media pledging to do better as an institution committed to inclusion and racial equity.
As an organisation our Academicians historically have been selected from the most successful (predominantly male) practising artists of their day. Our Collection and our history are therefore overwhelmingly of their time and place. We recognise that equity and inclusion has not been clearly articulated as a strategic priority for the organisation since that time, and as a consequence it is insufficiently central to decision making across the organisation. This has an impact on our Academicians, staff, students and stakeholders, our programme, our interrogation of our Collection and our welcome to visitors. We are committed to changing this.
In June, the RA Senior Leadership team nominated two senior leaders and a Royal Academician to co-ordinate the work we are committed to doing to become an anti-racist organisation, to recognise and challenge white privilege and to ensure that we remain accountable at all levels of the organisation.
Consultation and conversations
Over the past months, we have been thinking about how to engage most meaningfully on how to challenge race inequalities at the Royal Academy, beginning by consulting key stakeholders across the organisation and by educating ourselves more and better about the most effective and equitable ways of creating and sustaining change.
We held initial meetings in July with the Chair of the Royal Academy Trust, and with our Corporate Advisory Group and subsequently with individual members of the group. We also spoke with Royal Academicians who chair and sit on our Committees. We went to the Royal Academy Council to give an overview of the timeframe and plans and to hear input and ideas as well.
The President, Rebecca Salter PRA, and the Keeper, Cathie Pilkington RA, spoke in September with all Royal Academicians at the General Assembly and again invited further feedback and participation.
We engaged with all Staff and RA Schools Students in dedicated and interactive Zoom meetings (and where possible in-person) and have incorporated the feedback and the many email communications into the next steps. We consulted with staff and students about the formation and resourcing of affinity groups (as requested or desired).
Training and expert advisory
We attended several training and sector-focused meetings across the UK and USA and worked with an external consultant, Charlene Prempeh, CEO and Founder of A Vibe Called Tech, to define not only what we wanted to do but how best to ensure that our meetings and our discussions would translate into meaningful and measurable actions.
Among the most helpful training sessions were those provided by the Clore Leadership Brilliant Routes programme, the Association of Art Museum Curators, and resources provided on the Shades of Noir website, in addition to our own personal reading and resource-sharing.
Assessment and data
This first phase of our work was a phase of consultation and review which ended by asking every Royal Academy department and the Royal Academy Schools to review where they are at this moment. We chose to use the internationally recognised, Museum As Site for Social Action (MASS) action tool kit as the most appropriate method for our organisation. This was the first step for us to be able to gather some data and provide a baseline for our own improvement and accountability.
The MASS action readiness assessment asks a series of questions about race equity and inclusion in the workplace. The assessment divides into six sections where staff can ‘score’ or rate their institution on a scale of 0-5 (lowest to highest).
These sections are:
● Strategic leadership
● Culture and climate
● Policies and practices
● Programmes and services
● Engagement and advocacy
● Evaluation and accountability
Overall scores were very low – the highest was 20% for strategic leadership and the lowest 12% for evaluation and accountability. Within the self-assessment there was acknowledgement of some good work towards more inclusive practice in certain areas that we are determined to build on, but overall it was felt that this was not always reflected in the RA’s core values. The tabulation and discussion of these results, presented in full to our Council and our Senior Leadership, gives us a sobering baseline for the work that needs to be done.
As a non-government organisation, we have not historically been required to keep data on BAME staff numbers. With the data we have, and in a recent review, we estimate that 13% of our workforce identify as BAME.
Some of the comments in the staff experiences and feedback have also formed part of our analysis of where we need to focus our work. A small number of the many responses received are noted here.
…our institutional power needs to be at the centre of our response to Black Lives Matter. For the RA, this is our exhibition programme… this is where we can have the biggest impact, and therefore, where I think we should focus our efforts
Training and recruitment
I have seen first hand the positive impact of unconscious bias training. I would recommend extensive training across the RA.
Working in the arts in London is tough, and you will likely earn below £30k into your 30s, making all sorts of things difficult as an adult, and forming an additional and sometimes insurmountable barrier for those considering a career working for arts organisations. How can equity be achieved in the sector when it is only sustainable as a profession for some?
I feel like it is an important step to listen to our Black colleagues and gain insight into their experiences (both at the RA and more generally) as Black people experiencing racism. I worry that we could end up with white people talking to white people without truly understanding the daily racism that is faced.
As a result of these consultations we are forming working groups that will include staff, students and Royal Academicians, advised by our stakeholders and external consultants. The groups will identify, debate and propose strategies to encourage greater inclusion and diversity in all that we do, to monitor our progress and to hold ourselves accountable. In this way we aim to find new ‘ways in’ to the Royal Academy.
The three groups are focused on:
• Ways in — to Careers at the RA: looking at recruitment, hiring policy, apprenticeships, mentoring, staff training, inclusion, retention, workplace culture, affinity groups, data.
• Ways in — to our Programme: looking at how artists and practitioners can participate as part of the RA’s programme and how to widen the relevance of the work we do to reach underserved audiences. This work includes Exhibitions, Collections, RA Schools, the public programme of talks and lectures, research and outreach.
• Ways in — to Experience the RA: looking at how we address our audiences through press, publications, marketing, digital and social media and how we welcome visitors once they arrive onsite, front of house, security, catering, retail.
We will share the details of each group’s plans and actions here as they evolve and as we identify ways to measure the status quo and any improvement as a result of our work.
We are committed to doing this work to make the RA an anti-racist organisation in a way that is sustained, meaningful and long-term. We want to consult all staff, students and other stakeholders regularly and update quarterly, and on this website, as to steps taken and changes made. We will hold ourselves accountable and we look forward to all the ways we can effect continued change and move towards a situation of more racial equity for our current and future workforce, students, stakeholders and audiences.