An initiative to create more equitable conditions for freelancers in the sector has launched. Joon-Lynn Goh and Richard Watts introduce FREELANCE : FUTURES.
Freelance work is often pressured, precarious and undervalued. It is also often undertaken by people who experience racialisation, ableism, lower socio-economic status, insecure legal status, and who have caring responsibilities.
While for some freelancing is a conscious choice that works well, for many it comes with experiences of isolation, a lack of emotional support and legal protection, burn out and ultimately leads to the decision to leave the sector.
When we speak about the precarity of freelance work, we are speaking about the inequities inherent in how the arts and culture operates as a sector, and who gets to sustain a fulfilling and creative practice and career over a lifetime.
These inequities, exacerbated by Covid, have been sharply highlighted by freelancer-led activism, but they cannot be resolved – or be expected to be resolved - by freelancers alone. Nor can they be solved by employers alone, funders alone, policy makers or unions alone. The working conditions of the arts and culture are systemic, and require a systemic response, involving us all.
A call for change
Working as a coalition of freelance-led networks, Freelancers Make Theatre Work, Inc Arts, Migrants In Culture, MAX Musician and Artist Exchange, people make it work, Something To Aim For, What Next?, have been building FREELANCE : FUTURES - A summer programme of learning and action for equitable conditions in culture. It is a free 9-week programme of online events and resources running from Monday 16 May until Friday 15 July for independent practitioners, cultural organisations, unions, funders and policymakers.
As a coalition we have said:
“We are coming together from different perspectives and across artforms and communities to create a sector-wide space to learn, resource and build more equitable conditions for freelancing. As working in isolation will not bring the scale of change we seek, this programme is a call for us all 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 culture, to focus on four themes: organising for equitable freelancing conditions; understanding freelancer rights and resources; transforming organisations to create equitable freelancer conditions; and policy making to support equitable freelancer conditions.
Take a journey with us
Over the 9-week programme, we invite people to come on a journey.
The first stage is Getting informed, resourced and connected (16 May - 10 June). Designed for all participants, we’ll be sharing existing surveys, research, toolkits and resources on freelancing in arts and culture including knowledge on navigating tax, employment and immigration law and different approaches to making change from grass-roots activism to policy lobbying.
We’ll also be launching a process to help organisations change the way they work with freelancers and encouraging everyone to invite their networks (‘ecosystems’) to attend - the individuals, organisations and peers you’ll have to work with to create the change we need.
The second stage will be a week-long Online gathering, working together and creating change (13 - 17 June). This gathering aims to bring different voices, perspectives and approaches into the heart of discussion panels, workshops and reflection spaces. We’ll be exploring what it means to sustain a practice for life, including considerations around pay rates, well-being, the value of independent leadership, the power of networks and re-imagining governance.
Finally, Continuing the work, embedding shifts and defining next actions follows the virtual gathering and is a month-long period when we encourage attendees to support each other in continuing the work, embedding shifts and of course, defining what’s next. With online surgeries, reflective discussions and self-organising spaces, we hope this period helps to convert intentions into actions.
Bringing our ‘ecosystem’
We all know change is more likely to happen if we organise together, and organise over the long-term, so we can deeply embed learning and action in our daily practices.
We are inviting everyone to bring their ‘ecosystem’ of collaborators, partners and stakeholders - the people you are working with and who you are accountable to, now and into the future, to embed action and change. In particular, we are inviting cultural organisations to attend with collaborators, partners and stakeholders who are freelancers, and to support their engagement with the programme with a minimum fee of £250.
As freelancers ourselves, we recognise that many of our peers will not be able to afford to engage with the programme of virtual panels, workshops or resources, and that it’s easier for employed colleagues, who can take part during their paid working hours.
To ensure the programme is available to as many people as possible, FREELANCE : FUTURES has allocated 25% of the budget to access, including £10,000 to create 40 bursaries for freelancers. If you’d like to request a bursary, follow this link for more information, and submit your request here.
FREELANCE : FUTURES is not the first or last programme on sector change. This is a long-term journey, so we invite you to centre yourself in your lived-experiences and locality, to choose and design a route through the programme, and to do so with the support and accountability of your ecosystem.
Alongside other initiatives taking place across the UK, we hope we are building collective momentum that reminds us that the future requires us all to organise.
Joon-Lynn Goh is a cultural organiser and artist, whose practice focuses on the resourcing of migrant imaginations, economies and infrastructures
Richard Watts is a director at people make it work.
The full FREELANCE : FUTURES programme will be announced on 13 May. You can sign up to our newsletter for updates and to plan and book your personalised journey through the free resources and activities.
*Partners include: Freelancers Make Theatre 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 freelance cultural leaders who work together with a shared mission. Together, they support the cultural sector to change, develop and transform. They do that with direct strategic consultancy for organisations and cities, transformational programmes for organisations, leaders and creative individuals, and by offering free tools, guidance, advice and resources that everyone can access. They do all this to realise a fairer, more representative, resilient and relevant cultural sector.
This article, sponsored and contributed by people make it work, is part of a series sharing insights and learning to support the cultural sector change and develop to meet the challenges it faces.