The flexibility and empowerment that comes from freelance, self-employed and atypical work hasled , at least in part , to the dynamism and growth that we see within the UK’s creative and cultural sectors. It is that workforce that underpins the success of our globally competitive creative and cultural ecosystem that generated £116bn in GVA in 2019.
Often weaving swiftly and seamless between organisations, occupations and locations (or SIC, SOC and postcodes), the creative and cultural workforce stitch together the rich and complex tapestry that makes up the creative and cultural life of the nation. We know that the cross-pollinating role and entrepreneurial spirit of creative freelancers can bring about so many benefits to the communities they live and work in.
Nonetheless, freelance, self-employed and atypical work in the creative and cultural sectors can lend itself to variable working patterns, a high degree of seasonality and insecure work; leaving workers exposed to uncertainties around pay, rights and representation. This can, in turn, lead to poor policy and even, in some cases, exploitative work. These realities became even more apparent during the COVID-19 pandemic, when so many workers in the creative and cultural sectors were excluded from UK Government support packages for a variety of reasons.
Yet, despite the challenges faced by the workforce, the creative and cultural sectors have managed to “bounce back” just as they did after the financial crash of 2007/8. How do we square this? Under-supported yet bouncing back? It doesn’t seem to make sense to policy makers. Bur, as research by our partners at the Centre for Cultural Value makes clear, the pandemic and the bounce back has come at a personal price; the effects of which are yet to be fully understood.
If you speak to any of the trade unions, independent networks, advocacy groups or researchers who’ve been working to support the workforce through this difficult period, they will all land on a few key themes: freelancers are being asked to do more for less; experienced professionals are leaving; the lack of freedom of movement is making collaborations harder; stress and anxiety is through the roof; and some workers simply don’t see a light at the end of the tunnel. The cost-of-living crisis now presents several new challenges for the workforce too.
This is our starting point for the ‘Creative Workforce Workshops’ programme.
In this, our first in what we hope will be a series, we’ve travelled to three very different parts of England, speaking to individual workers in paid workshops to find out exactly what it’s been like to do freelance, self-employed and atypical work in the creative and cultural sectors in different parts of the country. Behind every quote you encounter along the way, is a real person trying to make a living in the creative and cultural sectors, hoping for a better and more stable future for themselves and their loved ones. In bringing many induvial perspectives together, we’ve observed on a few common themes and challenges and begun to signal towards some areas that we feel policy makers could really support with.
Excitingly, through our collaboration with ArtULTRA, we’ve commissioned three artists to extrapolate the workshop themes and findings into stunning new works of art, which we are thrilled to be publishing alongside this programme. We hope these works will help us begin our conversations with policy makers from a different starting point.
The following report, and the digital project pages hosted at www.culturecommons.uk[AR1] , are therefore both a written and visual snapshot of how creative and cultural workforce in certain subsectors have responded to the challenges facing them in 2022. Thanks to the support of Arts Council England and the Paul Hamlyn Foundation, we’ve managed to engage with partners on the ground in each place and remunerate creative and cultural sector workers appropriately for their contributions throughout.
We believe this could be the start of a new way of working for Culture Commons - mixing policy with creative practice to find new, participatory and innovative ways of capturing experiences, and finding solutions that unlock the full potential of the UK’s creative and cultural sectors.
Lastly, we’d like to dedicate this report to each of the creative and cultural sector workers we met with on this brief but memorable journey.
Trevor MacFarlane FRSA
Founding Director, Culture Commons