The creative sector needs to scale back to protect freelancers from burnout, says a leading researcher.
Speaking at a Westminster Media Forum conference on the next steps in funding the creative industries on Tuesday April 19, Professor Ben Walmsley of the University of Leeds warned that freelancers will bear the burden of labor as the arts and culture are increasingly called upon to contribute to regional upgrading and regeneration.
“We need to do less,” he said. “Until we stop overproducing…we will continue to see an overworked and exhausted workforce.”
“If we believe that arts and culture have an important role to play, we must invest in freelancers and cultural practitioners.”
A recent analysis from the Center for Cultural Value indicates that fewer performing arts professionals are doing the same amount of work as before the pandemic.
In February, the size of the labor force recovered mainly in other industries. But in the performing arts, a 15% smaller workforce is working more hours per week than in 2021.
The result, Walmsley said, is a need for more regenerative working models that prioritize close collaboration over constant creation.
Francesca Sanderson, director of arts and culture investments and programs at Nesta, added that the sector needs to develop and promote non-exploitative relationships between funders and funding recipients.
The vision for the creative industries sector is an opportunity to promote funding models that recognize the unique working lives of creatives.
Currently under development, the DCMS project will define the Secretary of State’s priorities for upgrading, environmentalism, international work, and improving access for disadvantaged communities.
Some speakers at Tuesday’s forum blamed the lack of coherent funding strategies at government level.
“I think the question is, what is DCMS for? In fact, a lot of what we do, doesn’t it belong to BEIS or communities [portfolios]? We are a huge industry but we have no economic power,” commented Mark Davyd, CEO of Music Venue Trust.
Horace Trubridge, chief executive of the Musicians Union, said freelancers are often unfairly viewed as tax evaders and treated as “second-class citizens”.
“I think we have to work really hard to counter that… there’s no reason for them to be an afterthought.”
Creative UK chief executive Caroline Norbury said the creative industries needed a strategy that was “aware of the ecosystem” and flexible enough to offer different interventions.
“It’s like there’s a complete disconnect between what’s important to our country for growth and how we’re going to get there.”
Walmsley suggested that legislation like the Welfare of Future Generations Act would help. The law requires that culture be taken into account in government decision-making, ensuring that it is properly funded.
“It’s something the rest of the UK can learn from.”
Whether business grows or shrinks, the future funding and development of the sector depends on the availability of people with the right skills.
The conference heard that creative workers particularly value mentorship programs, and these help develop skills faster than universities.
Norbury said the sector “has not been as united as we would like” – a shortcoming which was exposed by Covid.
There is a clear appetite for creative skills in other sectors, but traditional funding models are a ‘blunt instrument’ and not always suitable for supporting creative entrepreneurship and self-employment in all sectors.
Design is at the heart of many creative and non-creative industries, “which is why its decline at GCSE is so worrying”, she added.
If it were important to adapt current funding approaches, the sector would still be an outlier, she said.
“Yes, we are specialists and niches, but I think we have to continue to make the point that creativity is a horizontal approach and not a vertical one.”