“The influx of platforms designed for Black people is great, but it is truly power that we need to see ourselves have and excel in”
As the widely-shared resource lists become fully fledged agencies tackling the creative industry’s diversity issue on a foundational level, Shanice Mears writes about some of the leading names and their value, but with a warning to the industry.
- Shanice Mears
- 22 October 2020
The Black Lives Matter 2020 movement inspired countless resource lists, aiming to guide individuals and companies in the creative industry to be more diverse and representative. Now follows the second, more legit wave of those lists – a flurry of recently launched Black-run agencies, networks and platforms, which have used the momentum of the movement and industry-wide demand to start up and hit the ground running. To examine this series of events, we asked Shanice Mears, co-founder of creative agency The Elephant Room and creator of two of these new networks, to write about her experience, the wider context and what it means for the industry.
It’s the story of our time. Like the Drake album said: “If you’re reading this it’s too late”. For as long as I can remember being in the creative advertising industry there’s been talk about diversity and inclusion. Different reports about why we should have more diverse teams and different leaders in senior positions. Yet very little practicality to make that become a reality. In London there’s something I call ‘panel culture’ (obviously pre-Covid-19) where there’s always some form of Ted talk or line-up of people to discuss the state of the industry, yet they never really addressed in depth the reality as to why these discussions had to take place in the first place.
2020 has been a year of many things: unpredictable, testing, and in some ways more than others I’d say revolutionary. But to say the least being Black in 2020 has been a heavy carry of emotion. I always say that I speak from my own experience as a Black woman navigating the world and what it means to exist in spaces where you are not the majority. A feeling that you can never really shift or get rid of, but learn to comprehend and live with as you continue to make it a better place for everyone.
For me it’s about starting small so you can then go on to bigger. Which is where I think I really fit in. As the head of talent and co-founder at The Elephant Room I feel an innate responsibility to constantly support those who wouldn’t otherwise have certain opportunities or access from the ground up.
When Covid-19 hit, it was a challenging time for a lot of people, especially students who had put a lot of their time and hope into their final major project, which by default could no longer happen and hindered their chances and opportunity to optimise their options after university.
So, the University of the Arts London (UAL) creative shift team and The Elephant Room created The Story of Our Time, a resource pack celebrating the students from UAL and their stories during lockdown, and a directory of 90 different creatives who had signed up with a willingness to collaborate. (Read more about it on Lecture in Progress)
I’m passionate about Black talent, well I’m passionate about talent but just because of my own experiences with the barriers I know how important it is as a young Black person to have people rooting for you. It’s partly why I was inspired to create the Guestlist, an inclusively exclusive space for creators, where there’s a number one rule of no value no entry. A lot of young creatives are tired of being taken advantage of and a big part of the Guestlist is to feel involved and appreciated, with 1200 people and counting.
When we did our collaboration with UAL x The Elephant Room, we knew it was necessary to create a resource list that represented the under-represented, something that also allowed students to feel like there was a place for them beyond what the current climate had them feeling.
Also a special shout-out to Black owned businesses because for far too long, the inclusivity of platforms of talent has not been often known to the mainstream. There’s been a boom in new ways of discovering talent and platforms that are now represented like, Shop Black UK or The Black Book UK or places like Studio Pi that celebrate diversity in its purest of forms. With that being said I’d like to say a special mention to GUAP, Paq.works, Run the Check, Nights Global, Gal-dem and so much more for the work that they continue to do, the inspiration and for the informative content that they push out amongst our culture.
The influx of new companies and platforms designed for Black people is great but it is truly power that we need to see ourselves have and excel in.
Things like No Signal, championing and reviving Black Radio; STILL.BLACK an initiative set up to re-sell designer wear and proceeds go to other positive black founded initiatives; and The Black Curriculum, championing and teaching black history in education. Also two of my faves: Exist Loudly, championing queer Black youth, and free Black Uni making education fun and liberating for Black individuals.
I don’t want to see that these 100-year-old companies are now giving Black people credit, I want to see them paying them fairly, taking accountability for the systemic barriers that are in place and making room for them to collaborate as well as embracing them owning their own voices in their own spaces.
The industry still has a long way to go on making sure that the resources that are out there, continue to amplify young talent and it isn’t a short fix. I can’t predict whether anything is here to stay or not, but I do know that nobody is waiting for permission.
Whilst I was at GUAP we became frustrated with the lack of representation across the board for young talent in industries. There’s many lists that champion young creatives but what about people in science or psychology? So we made our own list THE BLACKLIST which is on its way to becoming an honourable achievement within the Black community. My job at The Elephant Room and beyond is to make sure that talent is supported, that talent is valued and they feel empowered. So that’s what I’m here to do. I hope you all can do that too.
© UAL and The Elephant Room: The Story Of Our Time