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Artists With Benefits
Artists With Benefits

Episode 1 · 3 months ago

Episode 1: Old white guys, the gig economy and a pipeline for talent

ABOUT THIS EPISODE

The first episode of Artists with Benefits looks at the gap between the old benefits system and the new reality of the gig economy. Freelance artists have suffered in the pandemic, and the stark realities of starting out and surviving in a creative career have been laid bare. In this first episode we compare our experiences of creative work in England, Scotland and Norway, and ask if the benefits system could help to level the playing field.

Hello, i'm chris bilton from university,warwick and you're listening to episode, one of the artists with benefitspodcast. The idea for this podcast came fromtalking about creative work with my colleagues at warwick, centifoil, ural,media policy studies, hily ashton, david wright and visho, and fromdiscussions we've had with people working in the cultural sector over thepast twelve months about what it's been like trying to earn a creative livingduring a pandemic. One suggestion that came up in theseconversations is the possibility of using the welfare and benefit system toaddress some of the problems of creative work in the future. That couldmean anything from universal basic income to a job creation scheme or apaid internship to creative workers setting up their own alliances and cooperatives. In this first episode, i'm going to explore some of the problemsof creative work, which have been surfaced by the pandemic. I'm alsogoing to look back at what the benefit system used to mean for those of usstarting our careers in t e s. The second episode will be more aboutsolutions. What kind of interventions might work and are there any positivelessons we can take out of the pandemic into the future? To do this? I've interviewed threepeople via zoom, an englishman, a scotsman and a norwegian where all maybe older, more comfortable old white guys, as one of us pointed out, whohave benefited from a certain history which i'll talk more about later. Martin bright is the founder and c o ofcreative society. A charity martin set up in two thousand and nine followingthe last big economic crash, aiming to help young people to find jobs in thecreative industries. Simon sharkey was one of the founders of national theatre.Scotland and currently runs the necessary space, he's a theatredirector and has been an advocate for participatory arts and has put a lot ofenergy into advising and lobbying government bodies for support duringand coming out of the pandemic. Bad clap is a researcher at thetelemark research institute in norway, where he has researched artist, workingconditions in the performing arts and museums in norway, the netherlands andthe uk. So what's the problem with creativework?...

Well in this podcast we're going toaddress really two issues: firstly, precario or insecurity in a sec towhere there is a very high dependence on free, lances self, employed soul,traders and project based short term contracts. Secondly, in equality, specifically alack of entry point into creative work, especially for people who cannot affordto work for nothing and who don't have the right social connections to surviveand compete. Well. The first thing to say here isthat, of course, these problems are not unique to the creative industries, butthey are, i think, more entrenched. This is because, when it comes tocreative work, there is a huge imbalance between process and productbetween input and output. The effort, time talent and resources you put in inno way reflect the product which comes out it's possible to work very hard formany years and not get paid, it's possible to have one lucky brain getpaid a lot. Even successful actors spend large amounts of time, notworking. Even successful advertising agencies spend time and money pitchingfor work which they won't get and for which they won't get paid. Only a tiny part of the work isactually paid work, but people still work without beingpaid because they think maybe one day they will make it and it will all beworth while or because everybody else is working for free or just becausethey enjoy it. So creative work is not like other work. Accountants, don't goout on a week end and do a bit of accounting plasters. Don't fix a warfor fun on a friday night, but thousands of musicians, writers andperformers will work on their own time, usually unpaid. And so when we starttalking about subsidy or welfare, it's worth remembering that the biggestsubsidies for the arts actually come from the artists themselves and what people call the ecosystem ofthe creative industries is actually more like a hierarchy, a handful ofpeople being paid very well, a vast majority being paid next to nothing. Afew hit products, a long catalogue of misses, a few people on permanentcontracts and an army of freelance and self employed individuals chasing thenext job or finding alternative sources of income in the so called gig economy. So all of these problems in equality,lack of opportunity, precario the imbalance between work and productivity,were exposed by ovid. Suddenly, the precarious world of freelance workcollapsed. There was no work and people on the margins, people who had alwaysstruggled to get a seat at the table now found. There was no table no seatswith a sign on the door saying closed until further notice. Of course, theseproblems are not new. We have had recessions before and actually it wasduring our last big recession,...

...following the two thousand and eightcrash that one of my guests, martin bright, got involved in trying to solvesome of the problems of creative work. At that time, martin was working as ajournalist for the new statesman as their political editor, and he wrote apiece saying: look we're trying to build back after a recession. Lots ofunemployed young people are interested in creative work. We know the creativeindustries are growing faster and while the government was pushing to get youngpeople into useful jobs like laying fiber octa cables, martin said why notget young people into creative jobs. To his surprise, this idea was pickedup by government ministers who said okay. If you think this is a good idea,why don't you do something about it? So he created this charity. Inspired bythe n s, roseveldts works progress, administration called new deal of themind later renamed creative society trying to help young people intocreative jobs. So i began by asking martin what kindof young people was he trying to help? Well at the time i was really onlythinking about unemployed graduates. I drawing on my own experience ofunemployment in h s, i've left university. I had a a good degree from a good universityand found myself in london with no connections, because i was the first in my family togo to university. I just had no idea where to beginreally, i thought i kind of had a vague idea that want to be a writer or vagueidea that that i could perhaps get into journalism, but i had no no clue as tohow to go about it. So i found myself unemployed for quite a long time, and i realized that, after about three months,it starts to seriously affect your mental health. It was only really whenwe started to put people into jobs so working with something called thefuture jobs fund, which was a six month work placement program that the browngovernment set up. It was only then really that i realized that my own case was was was relatively mild compared to people who had real barriers and realdisadvantage. It was really clear really quickly,because we were based in london. We were offering six months placements in creative institutions that asignificant majority of the young people that were coming to us were fromblack or asian backgrounds. Second generation immigrant backgrounds,usually that had often gone to...

...university, often gone to new universities inlondon, local universities, close to their own homes, they've been sold. The idea that, ifyou took on debt, then you would you get a job atthe end of the end of your degree, which would then help you pay back yourstudent loan and that this particular social contract had been broken. Thatit became clear very quickly that people who came from working classbackgrounds and black and asian families will find itreally really difficult to find work and that their degrees, because of inbuilt snobbery and because of perceptions, were not proving to be theentrant employment. They'd expected. What was also clear was that ambitiousyoung people from those kinds of backgrounds were atleastcoming forward to us to try and find work. What we fail to do was capture young white working class people who weren't even using the sorts of schemes that we setup. The people that we were working with has already made the leap awayfrom perhaps traditional second generation immigrant paths ofemployment, so they had already decided that they didn't want to becomedoctors or lawyers. I mean, i know these a cliches, but they are clichesthat are based in the mind, limited experience in truth, so the people wewere working with had already decided they wanted to study to make films or they wanted to go to art school or they wanted totrain to be designers, so that yeah, that's psychological leap. Yealready been made for people who were you know, often often in the same partsof london, although the same parts of the of the country that we were workingwith from yeah from traditional white working class backgrounds, have notmade that lead, they had not had the opportunity to see that thiswas a viable, a viable way forward. So i think i think yes, there's athere's a there's, a huge cultural gap there,like me, martin graduated from university in the n s, and the bigdifference for our generation, was that the welfare system allowed a lot of usto claim benefits alongside pursuing a creative career and a lot of the people at the top ofthe creative industries. Today benefited from that support system whenthey were starting out to day a job seekers allowance isdesigned to press you into work when...

...you aren't necessarily trained orsuited for doing that work, and it's conditional on your being willing andable to take whatever job you're offered. Unemployment and housingbenefit. In t s were designed to support you. While you were unemployed and some of those unemployed, peopleuse that time and space to pursue creative work, build networks, learnskills and there were other benefits to cheap accommodation, free highereducation places and spaces to rehearse and perform people talk aboutresilience in the in the creative sector. If you talk to people who arevery well established, they will often tell you that people need to pay theirdues or cut their teeth, or you know they talk about their own experience ofhaving worked either for very low wages or for for no money, and that scene is a rightof passage. When you scratch the surface, you willoften find that those people who tell their own heroic narratives of howthey've survived on how they vereine resilient had in fact had their ownpersonal means that have allowed them to do that, or indeed they come from an era that icome from, where you were able to live on benefits and scrape living because of low rents or because you'reliving in housing cops or squats. There's certainly a feeling among people in their s and s who are now established withinthe creative industries that this was this kind of personal, heroic narrative. It is something thatthat still applies, and, of course it doesn't it's absolutely impossible todo that now. So what's replaced, that is, is the gig economy, the the gigolo is where people imaginethat they can scratch a living, as perhaps you or i might have done chrisin the s and r s and still do what they really want to do on the side. Thereality is that the source of jobs that you have either you know working in a pub or a cafe ifyou lucky or working as a career or a delivery driver, render you so exhausted that any chanceof you doing anything else is impossible, and that brings within its own problems,because you you, i mean that's a huge challenge toyour sense of self to your self esteem and you have sonny among the young. Peoplewere working with this enormous sense of guilt that you are not able to pursue youryour craft oryour career that you really want,...

...because you're being distracted byearning enough money to pay your rent. I benefited from government schemes inn t is like the ms community program and the enterprise allowance scheme. The community program was a trainingprogram aimed to help unemployed, long term unemployed people into workingproductively in their local communities. The enterprise allowance scheme gaveyou slightly more money than regular unemployment benefit and was designedto support you. Setting up a creative business and martin reminded me thatcreation records the label which gave us oasis started as an enterpriseallowance scheme business so did super dry now. A global fashion brand wants astall in camden market. A lot for people and businesses which are nowsuccessful in the creative industries, grew out of unemployed people claimingbenefits. It wasn't just the official schemes. It was the availability ofother informal lairs of support and self help the infrastructure and sparecapacity in schools. The colleges local authority venues were whittled awaythrough the n s, as the public sector became more accountable in the uk andformal contracts replaced in formal permissions, but that informal economyis where a lot of british theatre, music and film talent learned its trade.What was remarkable about what happened with the enterprise of our scheme isthat a lot of the people that benefited fromit were people who were opposed to were opposed to the government opposedto the system would have seen themselves as subverse elements andwould have been seen as subversive elements by the government. But the truth was that the spirit ofenterprise was embodied in those people better, perhaps than it was by thepeople for whom the scheme was intended. So what happened? I think culturally, thatwas very interesting, was that people who would have perhapseven sniffed at the idea of enterprise became converts, and personally, i don't think- that'snecessarily a bad thing, because what we certainly found when we startedto talk to people that we were working with, maybefive six years into creative society was the young people coming out ofuniversity. When you talk to them about their hopes and dreams, you know whatwhat do you? You know, think of your utopian vision of the future. What would you be doing and it wasstriking, how many of them express their hopes and dreams through setting up their own thing? I mean theymay not called it business. They may not have expressed the in terms ofenterprise, but what they wanted to do...

...was not worth for. Someone else was tofind a way of expressing whatever element of greatest sector they were in throughtheir own product or their own work, and ultimately they weren't they weren't talking aboutmaking he his amounts of money. They were just talking about finding a sustainable wayof living that didn't involve becoming salariedman, not all of them. I mean some people dreamed of of getting a salaryfrom the national theater right or you know, working working working in alot center, but but for the vile you know for actually yeah a significant majority of thepeople we talked to their real dream was to do their own thing to in the inthe horrible phraseology of the united states to make a job and not take it. On simon sharkey, founder of the necessaryspace in scotland, sees a direct connection between the local smallscale, art sector and the commercial creative industries. What starts in anf college or a participation sows the seeds for creative careers, furtherdownn the line it's a pipeline for talent and investing in local art.Centers provides a platform for young people to build the skills andconfidence they need in the job market. But while the arts subsidy system isdesigned to support organizations, institutions there's something missingwhen it comes to creative individuals or artists, especially at the start oftheir career. I think that all suffering in scotland is no deferencefrom anywhere else in the uk, from the from the the big transition from what's been an incremental destructionof subsidy for a d and in its place. Puttin this this new way of financingthe arts and so what's been exposed. I think from coved is that we have large institutions, large in smallinstitutions, actually with people on fun or or operating through zoom, who arepredominantly...

...marketing, departments him ordevelopment departments. Raising funds and and all the artists are unemployed,a'd not even to make any any work, and that to me is is like a huge thing. Weare the the the the the push up the status of our career inthe creative industries, although the vast till loads are shortages and inthe technical side of things and has resulted, i think- and this thishuge community of middle middle management of finances and marketingand all politians and leadership and initiatives that that define know what cctv indispise are and that that blames everything about where your entry pointmight be, with your sustainable cavia my may come from, and that isweird subsidy in a subject. Welty, don't comment: universal income hasbeen top top yes, but that's if you've not get the people creating the productgetting paid. Well, then, what have you got? You've got you've got producersand you've got a lot of you o produce, as we are doing that and making themoney, as well so tes, b, a big shift in that direction of exploitation of the ups and culture that big idea of self sustaining or fifty percentsustaining creative industry we are subsidized ups-is just brought into it without the thought. The forefoughten te t e the pipe lane and actually investing in that as are indeed throughwelfare or direct universal income to the artistis, i think we are the big fold down, has happened so the the the subsidizedus and the the welty to support the rnd, as hasjust been swallowed up by this other bit of it, to justify its its ownexistence. Simon describes a disconnection between subsidy whichsupports access infrastructure organizations and welfare, whichsupports the people who create the work, so the subsidy we spend on making artaccessible maybe needs to be complimented by a welfare system whichprovides creative freedom, the time and...

...space for people, especially youngpeople, starting out to create a culture of their own, and so thissubserve suppose is going to create the environments and loges around access tothe arts. But what's not happening is sichts tones of that you could arguethat there's tons of that going on there's, not tons of, is the freedom to which is we of the wealf comes in the freedom for other other roops to expletion andother ways of play. When you mentioned about the feel of people just sittingand watching netflix netflix is only what about six or sevenyears old, af that and phones are only eleven years old and what that tot? What i took me back towas the taxing criticism of all they're going to do is set and play the guitarin the bedroom or or lessen to records well, and itwas out of westminister guitar in the page room that you got put in bonds like pop or the skids or orwhatever else, and i one don't know, and it's just it's just a thought- arethe kids that are playing with with ratan code. It's the if hehad the time to and welfare enable them to that. Some of that might just happento be the next thing. That is that's feeding the politic economy. Simon'sargument is that one end of the pipe line, the place where work is createdwhere careers start has become more precarious and more exposed duringcoved nineteen. The other end of the pipe line where the product iseventually delivered has been protected, at least in part, by furlow schemes andcultural recovery funds targeting institutions, but you need to supportboth sides like you need to support the organizations and infrastructure, butyou also need to support the people who make the work in those organizations.If you protect one end of a pipe line and neglect the other. The whole systemstarts to break down like martin. Simon is very aware that our generation, whathe calls old white guys, enjoys certain benefits. There was a local art center.There was free university education and that may or may not qualify as welfare,but it had the same effect. Something given to everybody with no stringsattached which allowed us them to make their way in the world to take risks toget started on a creative career, and i just took it for granted. There was anorchestra nic door to the old people's project. That was happening because iwent a lot. I happen to go to an up center. That was open doors like that.I took it fer granted and i carried...

...that in through my training and andwhen i announced from from my training i was still connected to all of thesevideos. Davit files building a cavie that was that was, i was hoping leadingto becoming a movie star, obviously yeah, but and itwasn't it wasn't you in my grass, you know people that robert kalil wentthrough the same processes as i did and anymal yeah. That's that's those thoseopportunities i think are they are to come back to your point about welfare and subsidizing that i thinkthat that are loads of organizations on thegovernment. We will gar. We are we're doing that in speed films through thedemands that were made. Certainly in scotland, the demands that we aremaking on each other with regular funded organizations. They need todemonstrate that these opportunities exist for and young people as ethnicminorities, disability there's a mat that, as huge focus, has been thrownand shifted onto all of these minority groups and and, as a result, lots ofsubsidy and lots of resorts being built around in scotland, which is it's great.I mean it's brilliant, i feel as if yeah we've got the there's father tocall, but both got yeah the thing that i forgot that that was god a mentionedwas about this weight. People of this looking at cutting fifty percent of education in creative performing ups, which there was a bit of a coal done inscotland, a way legal in colleges of further education when they were moving them intobecoming universities. Of that were so, you might have had half a dozencolleges but they've, no, the no under the one umbrella of a regionaluniversity, and there was a bit of a cull of courses and that in thatprocess, and quite a few of them were courses in that were arts, culture, creativeindustries and, as a result, as many of them were pushed into like media jonas.A digital design, as an example m lose those two were roots becausewe've got free education up here, those words roots into creative expiration. And, although youhad you, although your had to complete...

...your modules, you had quite a bit of freedom within thosemodules to be able to do so. Lords, are we bands or video companies or a smallfear, companies of comedians or forever have come through the rootsof that that intrepid straight from school,before university, in national qualifications and high on nice gal diplomas? That hasquite a bit of that is going on as well. There's not enough need of it and it'sit's kind of ignored, i think, by the subsidized sector, as i'd been able toget that pipeline into them, going on steece's or or creating that work. What free highereducation can do, what welfare payments and benefits can do is create a space,a necessary space for experiment and risk. This gave us my generation thefreedom to explore new ideas, but also the freedom to explore our own creativeidentity and, while that might sound self indulgent or entitled or wasteful,it could turn out to be an investment wasting time waste of money, dead, endcourses signing on for benefits, living in squats or housing. Co. Ops, all ofthat was not designed as a subsidy for the arts, but it was the basis on whicha generation got its start in the creative industries and, of course, all of that is stillpossible with the right investment. Bad clap is a researcher at thetelemark institute in norway and he is looked at the relationship betweenwelfare systems and the arts in norway and in the netherlands i meanconcerning infrastructure. It's very is we have some states schemes which are national, but there also very manylocal schemes, and that depends a little bit of on the economy of themunicipality, so several municipalities, or at least those manen parcival tieswhich are n a great deal of money. They have very good semes for rehearsalspace, etc. But there is also i mean you have the in order. You have thissystem of cultural schools, which is very well developed and also the rehearsal spaces for for localbands, which also is a is a state scheme where you can apply for money,for equipment for and also you can apply for containers of the band through their quick band roomswhich are placed around in several mons.

Apout is so that's. That's a goodscheme for at least for a young creative person's previe universitystudents, for example, for professional artists, is it's very quite much i would say,depending on the on the local economy and but re they're, almost so some somesome skins, some national scapes for for rehearsal spaces and etc. Here in the uk, we have the remnant ofa creative ecosystem which connects up local, informal arts activity tonational creative industries, but that informal sector has suffered especiallybadly during coved. We have a creative class of people in their s and s whobenefited from all kinds of systems and schemes which allowed them to getstarted in the creative industries and a new generation of young people whodon't have any of those resorts is available to them. We had a welfaresystem which complimented the art subsidy system in sometimes hidden ways.We have an education system which undervalues creative skills in creativejobs and which encourages young people to get a proper job to pay back theirstudent loans. We have a polarity of opportunity where it seems like onlypeople with pre existing income or connections can really afford to pursuea creative career. At the same time, the government hasbeen forced, by necessity, and very likely, against his ideology, to putmoney into a broken economy. We've paid people to eat in restaurants. Thegovernment has paid people's wages when they can no longer work because of apandemic. Cultural organizations have recognized they need to support theirsupply chains and find ways of supporting the freelances who do thecreative work. Artists have reconnected communities and there's, perhaps arecognition of the connection between grass roots cultural activity andcommunity building a lot of things that the government's doing in the uk nowwould have been impossible. Two years ago, backed into a corner, we'velearned to think the unthinkable, but the current crisis is the result ofdeep rooted problems. So could we look past the short term emergency measuresto longer term solutions? Could we rediscover new connections, rebuildbroken networks and pathways, build them back better? That will be thesubject of the next episode of this podcast you've been listening to part one ofartist with benefits, with chris bilton from university of warwick produced bymike raczinsky at buti, recording thanks to martin bright at creativesociety, simon sharkey, at the necessary space and board clep attelemark research institute for their participation, thanks to warwick'sproductivity and the futures of work, gr p. For supporting us, and thank youfor listening, and please join me for episode to when we will try to drawsome conclusions and if you would like to join in the conversation yourself,please register for our free weben ar...

...on wednesday, the twentieth july. A.

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