The director of an arts academy in Birmingham has said that its members will no longer perform at corporate events unless there are more black people at the tables in the audience than on stage performing.
Tru Powell, the co-director of the Aston Performing Arts Academy, said he hopes “Birmingham understands our stance and supports us.”
The Aston Arts Academy provides high quality entertainment for events, primarily through music, and the academy also helps to support and develop young artists in and around Birmingham.
The academy’s members have performed at some of the biggest events in the West Midlands, including top awards shows and Gala dinners across the region.
In a thread on Twitter, Mr Powell, said: “For over 15 years Aston Arts Academy has provided high quality entertainment for corporate events. You name it, we’ve done it. All the awards, all the private parties, we’ve done it all.
“However, as diverse as Birmingham is, apart from the waiters we are usually the only black people in the room.
“After discussions with the team we have decided we are no longer performing for corporate events unless there are more black people at the tables than on stage performing which is usually 10 to 15 and reflect the city we live in.”
Mr Powell spoke to BirminghamWorld about the academy’s new policy
He said: “At any given time as a group we have between 10 and 15 members performing, so I didn’t think it was a difficult request to ask event organisers when they’re organising these events to have between 10 and 15 members of the audience who are black, particularly if it’s a room of 500 people.
“Over the last 15 years we’ve been providing entertainment for corporate clients and performing at every event in the Midlands. And over the last 10 years or so the young members have started to question why there weren’t any black people in the audience and why they were the only black people.
“There were waiters who were black but that was usually it. There were hardly any black people in the audiences at the tables, but then lockdown happened, and it gave everyone time for a breather.
“Then the Black Lives Matter movement happened, but when I went back out on the scene last year and the award ceremonies started again it was still very much the same - there was still hardly any representation of black people.
“Don’t get me wrong it was a little bit better, you would maybe see two or three black people - but it still wasn’t enough for a city of our size and magnitude.
“So after conversations with the team we decided we don’t want to put ourselves in that space anymore, we don’t want to put our young people in that space where they don’t see themselves among the lawyers or the doctors or business owners or entrepreneurs in the audiences, or the women or men in tech - all these jobs and lucrative careers that people have got.
“Our performers aren’t seeing themselves in the audience but they are seeing, in abundance, black waiters and black helpers, or the black entertainers who they are, and it’s kind of subconsciously affirming their position in society, and we didn’t want to do that anymore and to play to this rhetoric that black people are only there to entertain and to waiter.
“So it’s a very simple request: just ensure that you have better representation of black people in the room than on the stage.”
Mr Powell, an entrepreneur and father-of-two, said he wants organisers to now make a ‘concerted effort’.
“This also means having a diverse judging panel because it’s very rare that we see black people on judging panels and have a diverse ambassador,” he said.
“You found us as black entertainers so we deserve seats at the tables, and we want to hold these event organisers accountable and we want them to start thinking about how they are doing their guest lists and who they are inviting, and if black people aren’t coming to the events then they need to start questioning why aren’t they coming.
“Do they feel uncomfortable at these events, do they not feel welcome?
“Do they not feel that they are reflected at these events? These are a series of questions that need to be discussed, so we’ve decided that we’re going to make a stance.”
In a thread on Twitter, Mr Powell added: “We love performing and understand we may lose clients but I can no longer see a lack of representation at tables but event organisers are able to tick their diversity box because the entertainment are black. It’s upsetting and frustrating. “
You can see Mr Powell’s Twitter thread in full below
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