Culture Commons is delighted to introduce the first of our new ‘Creative Workforce Workshops’ reports, made possible by support from Arts Council England (ACE) and the Paul Hamlyn Foundation (PHF). Alanna Reid, explains why we’ve launched our first report on the theme of ‘Place’, and how we hope the series will support our ongoing advocacy efforts for improved conditions for the creative and cultural sector workforce.
After a decade-long career working in local and central government, I joined Culture Commons in early 2022 year on a part time basis alongside developing my career as a freelance writer for the stage and screen. Having been in a PAYE employment structure for all of my career, I admit I found it tough to get my head around what was now required of me as an ‘atypical worker’.
Working on Culture Commons’ 'Culture in Crisis: 12 Recommendations for key decision makers' with the Centre for Cultural Value, I became even more alive to the issues surrounding the precarity faced by some workers in the creative and cultural sectors. I was shocked to learn that during the pandemic, large number of self-employed, freelance, and atypical workers in the creative and cultural sectors (33% of the overall workforce in these sectors) were unable to access emergency financial support programmes and were generally less supported by the state than cultural workers in other comparable countries. I was also struck by the long-term systematic workforce inequalities revealed by the pandemic, and along with many organisations in our industry, grew concerned about how the UK’s on-going cost of living crisis would continue to complicate, evolve and aggregate these issues.
So, when our Director Trevor MacFarlane asked me to take forward Culture Commons’ new workforce project, designed to gather evidence straight from the lived experiences of creatives, to continue our work to advocate for improved working conditions at a time of increased economic uncertainty for the sector, I jumped at the chance. It was an opportunity not only to meet more like-minded creative freelancers, but also to truly understand the impact of the past few years on individual lives and careers and what more could be done, both locally and centrally, to support one of the most innovative and fastest growing sectors within the UK economy.
As a former town planner, I have always been convinced in the power of the creative and cultural sector to animate spaces and places. I am a passionate believer in mixed-use development that encourages the ‘cross-pollination’ of industry and social interaction between different people from all walks of life. For this reason, I’ve been optimistic that the UK Government has placed culture at the heart of their ‘Levelling Up’ agenda, funding an increasing amount of ‘cultural regeneration’ projects outside of London. It has also been exciting to see emerging evidence on the beneficial link between thriving creative and cultural sectors and successful local, place-based regeneration; such as we see in the Local Government Association (LGA) ‘Cornerstones of Culture’ report and our own paper on ‘Creative Improvement Districts’ (CID) in Greater Manchester.
Given this, we centred the first of our workshops on the concept of ‘Place’, to understand if a local area really does matter in the context of opportunities for freelance, self-employed or atypical creative and cultural subsectors in unique parts of the country. Between October and November 2022, I had the privilege of visiting three areas in England to speak to individuals on what work was like for them in 2022, as well as think about their ambitions for 2023.
Visiting Truro, in Cornwall (the most populated local authority in England & Wales) I was encouraged by the depth of personal networks generated between the creatives in the area, as well as the gratitude they had for being able to create in the context of the unique geographical assets available to them in the area. In Croydon, a borough gearing up to launch a year of cultural activity as London Borough of Culture 2023, I met a group of multi-disciplined creatives, who were desperate for more space to create, engage and be inspired. Lastly, in Rotherham, where a grassroots programme has triggered a Children’s Capital of Culture 2025 programme, I met a group exploring innovative and new ways of working while developing deep relationships of trust with their local cultural support organisations.
And of course, Culture Commons worked alongside ArtULTRA to commission three artists, local to each area, to produce a piece of work that captured the sentiment of each workshop discussion. In Truro, collage artist Jess Pemberton who explores the boundaries between physical and digital spaces, produced a stunning depiction of the paradox between relational connection and physical isolation in Cornwall. In Croydon, movement practitioner Tara Kearney collaborated with photographer Duran 'Dee Dee' Abdullah to physically represent the struggle to find the space or ‘freedom to create’ expressed by our creatives in the borough. Lastly, painter Jo Peel, deployed her signature blending of urban and natural iconography to depict the relationship between freelancers and supportive NPOs in the area.
Taking time to speak to individuals in very different parts of the country was not something I often had the time to do while I worked in government. For us at Culture Commons, meeting creatives and practitioners, each with individual passions and ambitions yet similar structural struggles, is crucial to our ongoing work to ensure legislation and policy supports an innovative and equitable 21st century workforce.
We hope that this our observations on the 'Creative Workforce Workshops', 'Place' will provide fresh insights into local place-based working and help keep the lived experiences of the creative and cultural workforce at the centre of the national and local policy discourse.
We are looking to develop our ‘Creative Workforce Workshops’ series throughout 2023 to build a collection of evidence across different subsectors and demographics within the creative and cultural sectors. If you are interested in collaborating with us to develop the next series of workshop, get in touch with us at firstname.lastname@example.org