One Step Beyond: Radical Futures for Cultural Freelancers in Scotland'.
A summary of my presentation at One Step Beyond: Radical Futures for Cultural Freelancers in Scotland'. The Cross Party Group for Culture on Tuesday 11th December 2018.
Video available here from 34 minutes. (not captioned)
Podcast available here from 34 minutes.
Dancer & Theatre Maker creative handle Cultured Mongrel.
Associate Artist with Scottish Mental Health Arts Festival (unpaid advocacy role)
Facilitate FST working towards wellbeing sessions
Working nationally, internationally and recently on a more local level in my home region of Dumfries & Galloway
I can only represent a perspective from a performance sector which is largely not possible without subsidy.
I produce a non-profit making product.
I believe in the arts as playing an important role in society.
I believe fully in subsidised arts sector.
I don’t believe in them and uspolitics
I trust in actions far more than policy.
Everything I say will reflect the points of view listed above, I can give reasons for these beliefs but in this context I would like to ask people to embrace this perspective as my starting point so that the discussion can focus on the nuances of the questions I have.
As someone deeply working class my passion can be mistaken for aggression.
Since graduating in 2007, I have never been employed.
I’m often told I am lucky to have made a living pursuing my craft and I do feel privileged to call this my job but I don’t know how long I can continue to work in my field because this year I have suffered from paralysing anxiety; building upon many years of long hours, low pay and increased expectation
My love of what I do has not waned, I have a stronger practice than ever, I have become far more articulate in my needs as a practitioner and reluctantly have worked hard to become more entrepreneurial. Yet, I am exhausted and becoming less resilient by the day. Resilience is seemingly the back bone of the creative and the freelance sector.
There have been many mental health impact studies regarding freelance working but the more research I undertake the more I have to question these studies because the definition of freelance working does not seem to parallel with my lived experience.
Perhaps a model that better represents the work of cultural freelancer is a zero hours contract - my employer does not have to guarantee me any hours of work.
Arguably the benefit is that I can turn down any work offered but I am yet to meet a freelancer who doesn’t feel the need to say yes.
That said, unlike a zero hours contract I am guaranteed no statuary rights, no sick pay, no paid annual leave and no genuine protections against discrimination.
The impacts of zero hours contracts on mental health are well researched with Cambridge Universities latest research stating
‘so called flexi-contracts, none of which can provide a living, allow low level management unaccountable power to dictate workers hours and consequent income to a damaging extent that is open to severe incompetence and abuse’
As such, more and more ‘Creative Entrepreneurship’ is being pushed upon freelance artists, suggesting it is possible to make profit from the arts. However, if Matthew Bourne - arguably the producer of the most commercially digestible form of contemporary dance - now receives £1.3 Million pounds of government subsidy annually, how can a project where an artist is developing one to one living room based performances for individuals with immunodeficiency or anxiety disorders, as I am currently, ever become sustainable?
Distressingly, there is still little clarity for establishing how freelancers are paid.
For example, for this event I’m being paid £50 plus travel expenses which you may think is reasonable at just under £25 per hours, but if you break it down:
- I have been here for three hours, arriving at 5.00pm to get through security.
- I spent approximately four or five hours preparing
- This is not including informal chats with peers or the administration undertaken to finalise the arrangements.
This means I’m being paid about £6.25 per hour.
2/3 of the Scottish living wage.
This negates the increasing rates of membership fees, insurance, storage space for props, website costs not even mentioning pensions!
It also negates unpaid time for writing applications.
Creative Scotland’s newly released Touring Fund was designed to challenge unpaid working hours writing applications yet it took me, an artist experienced in application writing, over 125 hours to complete mine not including preparatory work that has been undertaken for years to develop the project.
Creative Scotland says:
The subsidised arts sector is highly regarded both in Scotland and across the world. It is hugely influential in supporting creative industries and tourism, which together employ nearly 300,000 people. It provides a fulcrum for Scotland’s wider creative industries growth, which contributed £4.6 billion to the economy in 2015, up 23.6% from 2014.
I am not fully sure what this means. In any sector meeting I have attended cultural growth translates to financial growth but in my lived experience, as discussed above, that is created on the backs of people who are struggling.
It is the equivalent of using people in zero hours contracts as an argument for decreasing unemployment statistics: it presents the facts in a consciously bias way.
I was asked here today to present policy solutions to the issues I have experienced in my career, some of which I have raised.
However, in truth, the issues I face on a daily basis and that have not improved over the decade I have been working cannot be cured by policy.
These issues are a question of ethics and professionalism. If policy could genuinely address unethical, unprofessional practice the government would have little work to do.
It is no surprise that the #MeToo movement has been clung to so eagerly by the performing arts sector. Any chance to address the historic power imbalance that exists feels vital before even more of the bottom rung cultural freelancers are slowly destroyed by the trickle-down pressures they face.
A friend who composes for theatre once joked with me that Alcoholics Anonymous is one of the greatest networking opportunities in Scottish Theatre. It really could be true, except it is not a joke.
Underpinning it all lies the same research that connects poverty, instability and a lack of validation as a human being to mental ill health.
I’d also like to add that I am saying this from the perspective of a white, cis-gendered, able bodied, Scottish woman. I cannot begin to fathom how people facing additional barriers - people of colour or the trans/ non-binary community who are proven within society to face significantly increased risk of ill mental health - find the strength to continue.
It can feel petty to demonstrate some of the ways in which unethical practice has been normalised, but if you can imagine the following as a regular occurrence over years of excessive working hours:
(only one of the following was selected as an example)
- In the past month I have received five funding outcomes. Four of which were unsuccessful. Three of those four would not offer feedback on my application. One for which I have to assume I was unsuccessful because the funder won’t respond to those who were not. This tells me, I’m not worth their time.
- I am still waiting on a £2000 payment for a project I completed in June. On average one in four of emails about this are now responded to. This tells me, I’m becoming a hassle getting in touch so much and that maybe I don’t deserve to be paid.
- Funders or larger organisations can delay outcome dates and deadlines, but as a freelancer I cannot be flexible and when I cannot meet the new changes I am replaced a peer. This tells me that I am easily replaced.
- Regularly Funded Organisations who have been removed from the portfolio are discussed as having their funding cut, where are freelancers who don’t receive their second phase Open Project Funds are discussed as unsuccessful in their application. This tells me something unjust has been done to the RFO’s whereas a cultural freelancers simply fail.
- Creative Scotland itself states in its Open Project Funding Guidelines that ‘artists should be paid for their time in accordance with union rates’, yet will not pay a fee to those artists undertaking professional development opportunities. This tells me that certain policies are simply paying lip service.
I recognise that the people working in organisations are largely stretched and that most genuinely care about cultural freelancers but feel limited by their role. As I said at the beginning, I don’t believe the situation is ‘them and us’, but the system is broken and cleverly pushes this narrative so that we can spend our days being angry with each other instead of engaging with the broader political sphere that we need to turn if anyone in the country is going to lead a more supported and sustainable life.
As someone who doesn’t believe it is possible to speak on behalf of my sector, I can only speak for myself, prior to coming here I asked my peers, as unpaid consultants, what policy solutions they would suggest.
Formed Policy Solutions:
- Cultural Freelancers will be paid within seven days of submitting their invoice.
- Rates for Cultural Freelancers will be calculated to reflect proposed working hours.
- Cultural Freelancers rates of pay will increase with inflation.
- Artistic Organisations will ensure 50% of their salary spend is ringfenced for practicing artists: a 50% artist 50% administration policy.
- Work will commence towards a universal basic income for artists, as referenced in the Scottish Governments Cultural Strategy.
- A mortgage policy which recognises cultural freelancers, enabling them to move onto the property ladder.
- Cultural Freelancers will have clear access to flexible pension schemes that understand freelance employment, annual leave, sick leave and parental leave benefits.
- Cultural events will not spend money on merchandising or hospitality until the cultural freelancers they employ are fully compensated for their time.
Proposed Policy Solutions:
- A national policy and process for reporting unethical practice.
- Tax Credit Systems should be amended to reflect the actual working life of cultural freelancers and fluctuating incomes. (Quarterly assessments? Refinement to avoid a ‘paying back’ situation?)
- Government childcare provision will develop a flexible working process, reflecting the real cost of childcare and not vary depending on a parents access to public or private providers. This will include offering more effective emergency childcare policies.
- Greater infrastructure development in rural areas, namely transport links, affordable travel and broadband, to enable rural cultural freelancers similar access to networks as those in the central belt.
- Ensuring that more money is invested in people than in maintaining offices which have no cultural or heritage-based significance.
- Development of more efficient application processes for public funding that challenges the unpaid time of application writing, often by artists not skilled in or familiar with such a formal approach.
- A policy to remove obsessions with the new, encouraging investment in established and deepening practices.
- A policy to ensure those working for salaries within publicly funded organisations remain curious about what people are doing out with their venue and own arts bubble.
- A policy of accountability for those who do not meet their ethical obligations.
- An exit strategy policy so that people act in the interests of the sector and not solely to protect their own job.
If only a handful of these happen in the near future the likelihood of me being here in ten years will increase greatly. The love I have for my work is not and has never been in question, but sadly the conditions I am expected to work in have not been questioned enough.