Mainstreaming anti-racism work through the arts 

The government recently announced funding cuts to arts and humanities subjects including music, drama, and English. The arts and humanities play a critical role to the cultural diversity of our society and to the economy as well.

The government argues that the arts and humanities do not lead to employable graduates or benefit the economy. However, data shows that the creative industries generate an estimated £126bn to the economy and these industries employ 2.4 million people.

Mental health problems are considered one of the most challenging issues of our time, in particular for racially minoritised communities. Mental health problems are on the rise and the cost to the UK economy is estimated to be at least £117.9bn per year.  The arts have been shown to impact mental and physical health of people from supporting development of children, encouraging healthy behaviours, supporting those experiencing mental health issues and people with neurodiversity. Therefore, the cuts to the arts and humanities will have devasting implications in allowing racially minoritised communities to express themselves and in understanding the impact of racism.  

At the launch of Leeds Trinity University’s Race Institute, Nadira Mirza (Director of The Race Institute) and I were conscious when developing the theme of the Race, Equity and Social Justice conference: Reimagining and insights into connecting Education and Health Equity in the Digital Age that topics about racism are heavy and distressing, in particular for those of us who experience racism regularly. To balance these conversations and provide hope, we brought together artists, poets and performers to foster conversations, raise awareness, and advocate for change. Together music, poetry and dance have historically allowed artists of colour to use their platforms to address racism, discrimination and many other social injustices.  

The conference was opened by Mica SefiaLeeds Conservatoire’s EDI Project Coordinator, and member of Go Higher West Yorkshire’s Black, Asian and minoritised ethnicity student network. Mica shared her experience of studying music at Leeds Conservatoire and performed ‘Walking Wonder’ which combined poignant social commentary with music. Mica shared that she wrote ‘Walking Wonder’ during the height of the Black Lives Matter movement and candidly shared that she felt lost and vulnerable and had to give herself away to educate others during this period. She shared that music gave her a window in being to express herself. The spoken word commentary and song resonated deeply for so many of us and spoke directly to the hearts and minds of delegates.  

To wake delegates up after the dreaded graveyard shift after lunch, Punjabi Roots ushered over 200 delegates through the University by playing Dhol and then gave a surprise energetic Bhangra dance performance to a special Bhangra mix of Ed Sheeran’s ‘Shape of you’. The power of Dhol and Bhangra celebrated Punjabi culture at its finest and created joy with delegates joining in the performance.

To close the conference, Haris Ahmed a poet from Bradford, curated and performed a bespoke anti-racist poem. The poem touched upon everyday racism, performative allyship, saviourship, diversity ticks and tokenism. The poem ended with a call to action and the need to be united to challenge racism in its many forms.

Lastly, Chole Baldwin one half of Buttercrumble, illustrated the entire conference, capturing the ethos the day and combined visual storytelling with accessibility helping to foster a more inclusive society.  

Let us continue to support and amplify these creative expressions of activism. 


Shames Maskeen, Lecturer in Psychology and Associate Director of The Race Institute, Leeds Trinity University 

Image (c) Chloe Baldwin, Buttercrumble