“Your book upset me”, she said.
My heart sinks when I read the opening line of an email from someone I don’t know. Why does Bullying in the Arts upset her? Does she think it’s rubbish?
I read on.
She describes her experiences of being the target of a bully in a cultural environment and that of her colleagues, one of whom had a heart attack as a result and left the arts for good after 20 years’ service. My heart sinks again as I realise she’s upset because she recognises and has knowledge of some of the types of behaviour the book describes.
Now I’m the one who’s upset. Here is yet another arts professional who has experienced abusive behaviour and is crying out for someone to recognise that bullying is an issue. Like me, she thinks the cuts in the arts, and the subsequent pressure on cultural organisations and creative industries, is making the problem worse.
Then there is a stunning revelation. I can’t believe it so I re-read that bit again. She says she ordered the book for her arts organisation last year and someone at work is keeping it in their office so that no-one else has access to it. This is so extraordinary I have to take some time out to really think about the implications.
In her arts workplace, morale is low and stress levels are high; new staff are resented because they bring in fresh ideas – currently, the two newest members of staff are on stress leave. She wonders if cultural organisations attract dysfunctional people … I’m not going there at the moment, because I know I need to think about this some more.
I replied to her with as many useful tips and links as I could find. I hope maybe I’ll meet up with her next month in London, where I’m doing a workshop at Birkbeck. In the meantime, I hope she and her colleagues get help from their union so that her nightmare workplace can be transformed into one where every person is valued and respected, as befits the cultural sector.