Lack of ethnic minorities at cultural events

28th Feb 2014


Many Asians attended the Globe to Globe festival in 2012 (hardly surprising when The Taming of the Shrew was presented in Urdu and The Tempest in Bengali) but these stick out precisely because they are so rare.

Masuma Rahim

The relationship British Muslims have to culture fascinates me. Or, more accurately, the seeming absence of any such relationship fascinates me.

Despite funding cuts, the arts are flourishing. Theatre, opera and galleries are seeing impressive footfall and recent initiatives, including the beaming of live theatre and opera into cinemas has opened these pursuits up to those who would not otherwise be able to experience them.

I discovered a love for the theatre early in life, thanks to regular school trips, and as an adult I also go to the ballet and opera on a regular basis. Whilst some productions are obviously superior to others, almost everything I have seen on stage in the last few years has been very good indeed. But I am almost always struck by one thing: the utter lack of ethnic minorities at such events. There are exceptions, of course: if you went to The Lion King or Wicked, the audince would likely be diverse.

Equally, during the excelent Globe to Globe festival in 2012, many Asians attended the productions (hardly surprising when The Taming of the Shrew was presented in Urdu and The Tempest in Bengali) but these stick out precisely because they are so rare.

This pattern isn’t limited to the performing arts, of course; the Hajj exhibition at the British Museum may have been popular with Muslims but I imagine far fewer went to the David Hockney exhibition at the Royal Academy of Arts.

I am aware that engaging with the arts is uncommon amongst ethnic minorities. Certainly, as I was growing up, there was a sense that whilst theatre might be something everyone could enjoy and ballet could be beautiful, neither was really a typical interest for ‘people like us’.

Opera was considered to be the exclusive preserve of rich elderly white people. There was an undertone that some interests were simply ‘not for the likes of us’. I was fortunate that I was able to try them for myself to decide whether they could also be for me; happily, it turned out that they were. But I know that whenever I go to the Royal Opera House or The National Theatre I am conspicuous because of my appearance. That doesn’t put me off – I know what I enjoy and I don’t require the permission of anyone else to indulge my interests. But I worry about the fact that a lot of us miss out on so much.

There are other factors at play, such as income and where you live. But culture exists outside London, be it Opera North or the Birmingham Royal Ballet. Cinema screenings have made it possible to see wonderful opera productions for as little as £10.

The options are there. Culture belongs to all of us; we all have the right to hear the music of Verdi or the see the words of Shakespeare performed on stage. We are fortunate that the arts are so valued in Britain; what a shame it is that we don’t take more advantage of it.

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