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Landmark conference on cultural equalities

Posted on 9 December 2011

The University of York’s Institute for the Public Understanding of the Past (IPUP) today marks its successful partnership with the British Museum with a major policy conference.

“Cultural Equalities Now” is bringing together strategic thinkers to provoke a national conversation about the challenges facing the cultural, arts, and heritage sectors and the impact this has on audiences for museums, archives, libraries, galleries, and heritage sites.

Our task is to understand the new landscape of cuts, equalities, big society and localism

Professor Helen Weinstein, Director of IPUP

The conference at the British Museum has attracted practitioners, policy makers and researchers from the sectors who are interested in diversity, access and equality.

It is the first in a series of conferences on cultural equalities and has been organised by the Institute of Public Understanding of the Past at the University of York, the British Museum and the Diversity in Heritage Group.

Baroness Estelle Morris, who is assisting with IPUP’s research on participation and public engagement, opened the conference with a keynote speech. 

Professor Helen Weinstein, Director of IPUP, said: “We are really pleased to be working on this important policy project in partnership with the British Museum and the Diversity in Heritage Group. In this first conference of the series our goal is to provide a useful forum for practitioners and academics to have a dialogue with key policy makers.

“Our task is to understand the new landscape of cuts, equalities, big society and localism. The Coalition government is bestowing greater autonomy to the cultural heritage sectors and they also promote local, community based power. We are exploring survival strategies for cultural organisations that connect the two, and researching the impact that this has on audiences and their participation.”

Baroness Morris, a former Secretary of State for Education and Skills, said: “I appreciate IPUP inviting me to deliver the keynote speech today, and to support their important work researching public engagement with the cultural and heritage sectors. Even though we’re in difficult times, participation and engagement with culture is essential. What I fear most is that the cuts become the only thing we talk about, and that would be a tragedy. The cuts will make it more difficult, but they don’t mean we are scared of our own shadow and that we no longer do anything. The cuts are real, and the cuts are a challenge, but we’ve got a responsibility to focus on the big issues, about what matters most.” 

John Orna-Ornstein, Head of National Programmes at the British Museum, said:  “Museums engage and connect people, making them more important now than ever before. The conference is part of a debate about how museums can become increasingly relevant to the widest range of people at a time of economic, social and political change. The British Museum is delighted to stimulate this debate by supporting ‘Cultural Equalities Now’. IPUP’s research on audiences and identity, understanding the relationship between the past and the present, is an essential bedrock of our work together.”

Tracy-Ann Smith, Chair of the Diversity in Heritage Group, said: “There is a lot of commonality across the arts and cultural heritage sectors when trying to understand our commitments to all parts of society within a new legal, economic and policy context. The Diversity in Heritage Group is thrilled about the development of the two year relationship with IPUP culminating in this impressive conference which we expect to shed significant light on opportunities as well as challenges that lie ahead and strengthen collaborative and supportive cross sector networks.” 

The first conference in the series, “Cultural Equalities Now” is taking place in the Stevenson Lecture Theatre at the British Museum on 9 December from 10am to 5.30pm. For further information and to read the Conference Report visit:

Notes to editors:

  • For more information on the Institute for the Public Understanding of the Past at the University of York visit

Contact details

Caron Lett
Press Officer

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