Self-employment is often under pressure, precarious and undervalued. It is also often undertaken by people who experience racialization, ableism, lower socioeconomic status, precarious legal status, and who have family responsibilities.
While for some freelance work is a conscious choice that works well, for many it comes with experiences of isolation, lack of emotional support and legal protection, burnout and ultimately led to the decision to leave the sector.
When we talk about the precariousness of self-employment, we are talking about the inequalities inherent in the functioning of arts and culture as a sector, and who can maintain a fulfilling and creative practice and career throughout their life.
These inequalities, exacerbated by Covid, have been strongly highlighted by independent-led activism, but they cannot be solved – or should be solved – by independents alone. Nor can they be solved by employers alone, funders alone, policy makers or trade unions alone. Arts and culture working conditions are systemic and require a systemic response, involving all of us.
A call for change
Working as a coalition of independent-led networks, Freelancers Make Theater Work, Inc Arts, Migrants In Culture, MAX Musician and Artist Exchange, people make it work, Something To Aim For, What Next?, have built FREELANCE: FUTURES – A summer program of learning and action for a level playing field in culture. This is a free 9 week program of online events and resources from Monday 16th May to Friday 15th July for independent practitioners, cultural organizations, unions, funders and policy makers.
As a coalition, we said:
“We come together from different perspectives and across art forms and communities to create an industry-wide space to learn, recharge, and create fairer conditions for freelancing. As working in isolation will not bring the scale of change we seek, this program is a call for all of us to work better together to change the conditions in which we work, create and support arts and culture.
FREELANCE: FUTURES builds on existing advocacy, research and campaigning across cultures, to focus on four themes: organizing for fair freelance work; understand the rights and resources of freelancers; transform organizations to create a level playing field for freelancers; and developing policies to support fair conditions for freelancers.
Take a trip with us
During the 9-week program, we invite people to come on trips.
The first step is Get informed, recharge and connect (May 16 – June 10). Designed for all attendees, we will share existing surveys, research, toolkits and resources on freelancing in arts and culture, including knowledge on navigating tax, labor and employment law. immigration and different approaches to moving from grassroots activism to political lobbying.
We will also initiate a process to help organizations change the way they work with freelancers and encourage everyone to invite their networks (“ecosystems”) to attend – the individuals, organizations and peers you will need to work with to create the change we need.
The second stage will last one week Gathering online, working together and creating change (13 – 17 June). This gathering aims to bring different voices, perspectives and approaches to the heart of panel discussions, workshops and spaces for reflection. We will explore what it means to maintain a lifelong practice, including considerations around pay rates, welfare, the value of independent leadership, the power of networks, and the reinvention of governance.
To finish, Continue work, integrate shifts and define next actions follows the virtual gathering and is a month-long period where we encourage participants to support each other to continue the work, integrate the shifts and of course, define what is next. With online surgeries, reflective discussions and spaces for self-organization, we hope this time will help convert intentions into action.
Bring our ‘ecosystem’
We all know that change is more likely to happen if we organize together and for the long term, so that we can embed learning and action deeply into our daily practices.
We invite everyone to bring their “ecosystem” of collaborators, partners and stakeholders – the people you work with and are accountable to, now and in the future, to embed action and change. In particular, we invite cultural organizations to attend with collaborators, partners and stakeholders who are freelancers, and to support their engagement with the program with a minimum of £250.
As freelancers ourselves, we recognize that many of our peers will not be able to afford the program of virtual panels, workshops or resources, and that it is easier for fellow employees, who may participate during their paid working hours.
To ensure that the program is accessible to as many people as possible, FREELANCE: FUTURES has allocated 25% of the budget to access, including £10,000 to create 40 scholarships for freelancers. If you would like to apply for a scholarship, follow this link for more information and submit your application here.
FREELANCE: FUTURES is not the first nor the last program on the change of sector. This is a long-term journey, so we invite you to focus on your lived experiences and your locality, to choose and design a route through the program, and to do so with the support and responsibility of your ecosystem.
Alongside other initiatives underway across the UK, we hope to create a collective momentum that reminds us that the future requires us all to organise.
Joon-Lynn Goh is a cultural organizer and artist, whose practice focuses on resourcing the imaginations, economies and infrastructure of migrants
Richard Watts is a director at People Make It Work.
The full program for FREELANCE: FUTURES will be announced on May 13. You can sign up for our newsletter to receive updates and to plan and book your personalized trip through free resources and activities.
*Partners include: Freelancers Make Theater Work, Inc Arts, Migrants In Culture, MAX Musician and Artist Exchange, people make it work, Something To Aim For, What Next?, commissioned by Arts Council England.
people make is work is a group of 60 independent cultural leaders who work together with a common mission. Together, they support the cultural sector to change, develop and transform. They do this with direct strategic advice for organizations and cities, transformational programs for organizations, leaders and creative individuals, and by offering free tools, tips, advice and resources available to everyone. They do all this to achieve a fairer, more representative, resilient and relevant cultural sector.
This article, sponsored and contributed by people who make it work, is part of a series of sharing ideas and learning to support change and development in the cultural sector to meet the challenges it faces.