Initially, my research was centred around the idea that there is a fundamental imbalance in the way arts education is structured. This was due to my own experience, having noticed that BME students were more likely to opt into STEM subject than arts ones.
I had some idea that the arts industry as a whole is decidedly ethnocentric. After further research, it would seem that I was correct in a sense, but there are a variety of factors contributing to unequal access in the arts that I didn’t even consider.
One thing that I was right about is the cultural difference between ethnic minorities and their white counterparts. As an immigrant, I am familiar with the mentality of “you have to work twice as hard to get half as far”. In my culture, hard work is valued greatly. One thing I found in the questionnaires was that almost everyone, regardless of background, seemed to have a preconceived notion that arts subjects were unserious, or easy. This was reflected in the answers to “what is your definition of art,” in which most people alluded to leisure and self-expression. While art is definitely a form of self-care and relaxation for some, I’m worried that many people underestimate the political and social value that art can have. Art is all around us, it shapes our opinions and desires, and is therefore no less necessary than science and maths.
Furthermore, many immigrants are considered with breaking out of the poverty cycle, and therefore want their children to have better-paying jobs than them. This makes the arts, which have a reputation for being underpaid, an inviable career path. It is a supposed fact that STEM graduates earn more money and have a better quality of life than those who studies liberal arts and humanities. However, upon looking into the statistics deeper, this simply isn’t true. Ten years after graduation, the pay gap between liberal arts students and STEM students is negligible. In addition, this initial pay gap reflects many things, including:
- -The fact that females are more likely to take arts subjects due to gender norms. Females are also likely to be paid less than men initially, because of underlying sexism in the workplace. Women are also statistically less likely to ask for pay rises than men, which also contributes.
- -Liberal arts graduates are likely to choose jobs that make them feel fulfilled rather than choosing what pays best and staying there forever.
What this research shows is that the problem with access to arts stems from problems in people’s attitudes to art. I initially thought that this problem was largely due to cultural differences, but it is clear that there is a widespread misconception that arts subjects are ‘easy’ and ‘feminine’ which needs to be addressed at a wider level. There is also a problem with regional differences- as I noted before, there are several outreach programmes in London, for example in the contemporary dance sector. This means that underprivileged and BME young people have more opportunities to get involved in such industries, as opposed to if they were living outside the capital this, in my opinion is a real problem that needs to be addressed. I hope that the problem with diversity in the arts may start to solve itself as people slowly become more open-minded. But, until then, I believe that alternate pathways into the arts need to be devised- for example, dance education for those who didn’t have the chance to start when they were young, or accessible writing qualifications that can be taken on the side.