On 2 October 2023, ixia, Beam and CVAN (Contemporary Visual Arts Network) co-organised an event to share recent research on diversity, inclusion and challenges in the public art sector and invite reflections and responses from industry representatives.

Chaired by Paula Orrell, Director of CVAN – The Contemporary Visual Arts Network, speakers included Cecilia Wee (researcher for the CVAN Fair & Equitable Research Report), Bo Olawoye (researcher for the Beam research project, Building a More Diverse and Inclusive Public Art Sector), Katy Beinart and Suzanne Heath (ixia board members) and Elisabeth del Prete (UP projects).

For each of the three organisations, an inclusive, self-reflective approach to data gathering and evaluation is critical to further developing collective knowledge and understanding.

Bo Olawoye, author of Beam’s latest report, held “listening sessions” to give participants the time and space to be “brutally honest” about their experiences of the sector and at the forum, Cecilia Wee, co-author of CVAN’s 2022 Fair & Equitable Research Report, spoke about the need to “hold space for the experiences of people from marginalised communities who work with public art today and in this space.” Ixia also conducted a public art sector survey and held forums for artists and producers to discuss their experiences and needs.

The online event formed an extension of CVAN’s five-year Fair + Equitable programme as well as sharing two recent reports focussed on art in public spaces: one by ixia, the national public art think tank for England and another by Beam, a Wakefield-based cultural development organisation.


– Why Public Art, Why Now? Re-thinking Art and the Public Realm Survey 2022-23, has been produced by ixia (2023). The report found a clear lack of diversity in the people making, commissioning and funding public art. From a survey of artists, curators and local authority officers, over 80% were white, 80% non-disabled and respondents were predominantly concentrated in London, the SW and SE.

– Building a More Diverse and Inclusive Public Art Sector was commissioned by Beam and researched and written by Bo Olawoye (2023). The report suggests ways to better engage under-represented artists in public art: 1) Local authorities partner with community organisations already working with  arts organisations, 2) Establish advisory groups led by artists of colour, 3) Producers/arts organisations could facilitate an advisory session between artists & local authorities 4) Promote commission opportunities to local artist-led spaces and collectives.


Following the presentations, delegates were split into breakout groups and invited to respond to a series of questions: What resonated for you; What is missing; and What is needed to bring about change?

The event brought together a range of perspectives from across the industry. There were artists, curators, students and academics, heads of arts organisations, culture officers from local authorities and leading EDI thinkers and practitioners, representing every corner of the UK: from Belfast, Newcastle, Leeds, Sheffield and Nottingham to Cambridge, Luton, London, Brighton, Southampton and Bristol.


Participants fuelled a productive discussion and put forward a number of incisive recommendations for improving diversity and inclusion in the public art sector:

1) Networking: Delegates expressed a desire to connect with each other. ixia has since set up a LinkedIn group as a first step. The group is called Art in the Public Realm EDI Network. We hope it will be a space for artists and commissioners to link up and share opportunities. Click here to join the group.

2) Pay: Low pay remains a massive barrier to making public art. Artists are often expected to work for free. Pay equity and pay transparency are crucial to improving EDI in the sector. Delegates suggested rate sharing as a possible way to affect positive change.

3) Commissioning and procurement: “Putting out to tender is the death of diversity”, an artist commented. Delegates suggested some changes that could improve EDI at the commissioning and procurement stage: i) Open calls, without pre-defined outcomes and fixed narratives, which can be exclusionary, ii) “Care contracts” between artist and commissioner to promote ethical practices and iii) Community led boards within commissioning bodies.

4) Best practice and guidance: Participants suggested there need to be “clear rules of engagement” for developers working with artists. An ethical code of practice, enshrining the principles of EDI, could be developed between artists, producers and commissioners, including local authorities and arts councils as well as developers). EU research could provide guidance.

5) Value of public art: According to ixia’s 2022-23 report, public art can improve the public realm, both aesthetically and socially; strengthen local identity; and provide artists opportunities for creative expression. However, delegates felt public art is devalued and definitions are ill-defined. Advocacy work is needed to build support with arts councils and local governments, it was suggested, with scope to strengthen cultural planning policy.

Sign up to our newsletter

We will only send you occasional newsletter updates and we promise to never share your personal details with any 3rd parties. You can unsubscribe at any time.