Equality and Diversity at the National Portrait Gallery

Our anti-racism commitment

Photo of a Gallery room with portraits of black individuals on the walls

Installation image of Black is the New Black: Portraits by Simon Frederick, September 2018 - January 2019. This ongoing project represents the Gallery’s largest acquisition of portraits of black sitters and is one example of the ways in which we are working to increase diversity in our Collection.

August 2020

The recent anti-racism demonstrations across the world have rightly raised urgent questions about Britain’s past, present and future regarding race and equality. As a Gallery which aims to be for and about all people, we want to champion anti-racism and use our platform to bring about change.

Although the Gallery has had a long-term commitment to diversity, we recognise and regret that we have not made more progress. As an institution founded in the Victorian era, aspects of our establishment and the foundations of our Collection are interconnected with Britain’s colonial past and we have sitters in our Collection whose values are as abhorrent in our own time as they are central to an understanding of their own. Our displays need to better examine and discuss those contexts and their ongoing impact on society. We have a responsibility to ensure that these contexts are acknowledged, as well as to express the experiences of those who are currently missing or under-represented.

A core purpose of our current Inspiring People project is to address these areas as intrinsic to an open understanding of Britain’s history. The Gallery is now closed until 2023 while work takes place on our redevelopment. A key part of this transformation is a comprehensive re-presentation of all the portraits on display by re-examining the Collection, featuring multiple voices from diverse sources and exploring Britain’s colonial and imperial past and the legacies of empire. Inspiring People also includes a series of projects with communities across the UK, enabling us to work collaboratively with partners on the stories told in our galleries and online.

In addition to this, we have outlined some key commitments below, which will be the basis of a comprehensive update of our Equality and Diversity Action Plan, which will be published on our website and updated regularly with progress:

  • We will create a comprehensive action plan through a process of learning, listening and consultation with our staff, stakeholders and both current and unengaged audiences, as well as welcoming advice and challenge from external experts.
  • We will continue to work to find new ways to increase the diversity of our organisation, given that black and other ethnic minority people are under-represented in our workforce.
  • We will give staff the time and space to discuss issues and encourage participation and feedback by empowering our internal Equality & Diversity Group. We will introduce a programme of relevant mandatory training for staff.
  • We will review the Gallery’s vision and values ensuring that diversity, inclusivity and equality are embedded in everything that we do.
  • We will increase the diversity of our Collection and seek to acquire portraits where there are key gaps in our holdings, particularly black and minority ethnic sitters and artists.
  • We will create more exhibitions, displays and interventions with black artists.
  • We will re-examine the way we interpret, explain and contextualise our Collection, being transparent about the racism and exploitation associated with certain sitters and works as well as exploring the Gallery’s links with historical transatlantic slave trade.
  • We will develop our new schools programme and digital learning materials to support the movement to bring black history into the curriculum, including examining the history of empire and the transatlantic slave trade, so young people have the opportunity to understand how this has shaped their shared histories.
  • We will champion social justice and work with groups that are currently under-represented to break down obstacles to access and inclusion. This will include providing work experience opportunities to pupils in under-represented groups and outreach projects in partnership with a range of communities.
  • During the three-year closure of the Gallery, we will use our digital channels and national activity programme to amplify black and other ethnic minority voices.

This list is not exhaustive, it is just the beginning. We are determined to fulfil our responsibility to be a gallery about and for all people. These initial commitments are just the start of a process of fundamental change.

If you have any questions or would like to give us feedback please email [email protected]