The Barbican has been described as “institutionally racist” by its own staff, who have compiled dozens of alleged incidents which they say show that the cultural organization failed to live up to anti-racist commitments it made there. is one year old.
Current and former staff shared the stories anonymously and compiled them into a book that contains over 100 cases of alleged harmful behavior, including senior executives openly using racist language and a larger culture in which racist incidents are not investigated and career progress is limited for staff of color.
The incidents date back to 2014, although more have occurred in the past 12 months.
The Barbican said it has launched an independent review of the allegations, as presented by the Guardian.
In a statement, the organization said, “We fully recognize the pain and injury caused by these experiences. We are committed to continuing the current program of action that we have defined to advance the fight against racism within the organization and to achieve the necessary changes. “
He said he was “shocked and saddened to hear the allegations” and had “always strived to be an inclusive, welcoming and open organization”.
The statement added: “Although we have not received any formal complaints, all staff will be able to contribute to the independent review so that their experiences can be heard and those affected can get the support they need. We want everyone’s voice to be heard and respected.
The Guardian spoke to several contributors to the book, including one who alleged that a member of senior management called an Asian Barbican employee “yellow” in a conversation, before claiming they were doing reference to the aura of the employee.
Others told the Guardian about a work culture they saw as “subtle and insidious” racist, with a clear division between a more diverse staff in casual and short-term roles, and the whiter ranks of those. who occupy permanent and higher positions.
Several accounts describe an environment in which people of color are openly referred to as “hiring diversity,” while several staff members recall being routinely confused with other people of the same ethnicity at meetings.
An interned person recalled that one of the directors mistook them for the only other person of their ethnicity while introducing them to a group. The person corrected the manager and then became concerned that she had “permanently destroyed her chances of getting a job at the Barbican.”
Another described cutting her afro hair to prevent coworkers from trying to touch it.
Several contributors to the book discuss the racism front desk staff face from customers, including a case of an employee called the N-word during the Jean-Michel Basquiat exhibit in 2017. Staff claimed that there was a constant lack of follow-up. management when such incidents have been reported.
Others say they were racially profiled by the Barbican’s own security staff, while several staff say they were supposed to be cleaners and a black employee remembers it. ‘he was asked if he could sell cannabis to a colleague.
Elsewhere in the post, the Barbican is described as “a systematically racist institution”, with one staff member describing a “low-level buzz always in the background” reminding various employees that they are an anomaly.
The Barbican declined to comment on these specific allegations, but in response said it would immediately launch an independent review of them.
Organizers of the book say it’s partly a response to the Barbican’s anti-racist commitments he made last year. The Barbican was one of many British arts institutions, including Tate and Somerset House, which responded to the global protest movement sparked by the murder of George Floyd by pledging to fight inequalities within their institutions.
As the Black Lives Matter movement gathered momentum, the Barbican posted three black squares to its social media accounts on ‘Black Tuesday’.
After criticism from staff that the squares were ‘performative’, the Barbican posted an action plan against racism on its website signed by its chief executive, Sir Nicholas Kenyon, in June 2020.
In it, while addressing the larger problem of racism in society, he noted that the organization was “part of a systemic problem” and that it had not done “enough over time to resolve these problems in our organization ”. He also said he was “determined to change this now” and determined to “eradicate racism in all its forms”.
But internally, according to the Guardian, the plan has come under heavy criticism from staff, particularly concerned that it was vague and crafted without consultation with ethnic minority employees.
In July 2020, a consulting firm was asked to conduct ‘listen and learn’ exercises with staff, but was criticized for asking staff of color to relive racist incidents in front of senior managers.
Part of the plan to address the issue was to put in place a task force, made up of Barbican employees, that “would agree to the steps we need to take to remove the processes and barriers in the organization that support systemic racism.” “.
The book contains emails from the task force claiming they were not given any power to effect changes, asked them to do work alongside their normal job, and – in the words of one contributor – ” should solve the racism at the Barbican in two months ”.
In an update to its anti-racism pledge in May 2021, the Barbican outlined the key steps it has taken to date, including the creation of a formal subcommittee whose role is to help make take action against racism and hold the organization to account. He also appointed staff to identify next steps that could be taken to remove processes and barriers in the organization that have supported systemic racism.
In the update, he also said he was using responses from the listening and learning sessions to fuel a new equality and inclusion strategy. He also said he was recruiting for a new role in equality and inclusion.