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Arts Council England: Freelancing in the creative and cultural sector

Category: Flexible Working, Arts Council England, Creative Talent, Arts council, COVID-19, Art and Design, Arts and culture, career event, career opportunities, cultural and creative, Freelance

Flexible Working

As we launch the Freelance : Futures symposium to discuss how we improve the support for and position of individuals working in creativity and culture, our Chief Executive Darren Henley explains why the time is now and the role we all have to play in bringing about change.  


Freelance Futures Symposium


Here at the Arts Council, we have a vision. A vision that this country will be one in which the creativity of each of us is valued and given the chance to flourish.  

If we’re to achieve this vision that we set out in our ten-year strategy Let’s Create, then it’s vital that everybody, no matter who they are or where they come from, can pursue a career in the arts, in museums or in libraries if that is their calling in life.  

But as we set out in our Delivery Plan for 2021-24, the Covid-19 pandemic has had a particularly devastating impact on many of the individual creative and cultural practitioners at the heart of creative production in this country. And it’s individuals from the communities who have historically had the least access to public funding for culture that have been hardest hit. Many have left the sector, and together we’re now faced with the task of not only retaining the best talent that remains, but also bringing in new talent that reflects the wide range of backgrounds that make England such a vibrant place to live. 

In a sector where 49% of the workforce are freelance, it’s vital then that it is both a viable and an attractive proposition for people choosing this career pathway. One where, if you work freelance, you are well paid and well valued for your contribution, where you’re able to invest in your creative and professional development, and where you have a seat at the same table as organisations when it comes to debating and setting the agenda for the future of creativity and culture in our country. We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again: the cultural sector is only as strong as the talent of the individuals who work in it.  

So as the creative and cultural sector emerges from the pandemic alongside the rest of the country, we find ourselves at a turning point. A crossroads where we have a choice to make. Do we seize this moment to make long-lasting, systemic change, or do we return to business-as-usual? We say the latter is simply not an option.  

It’s for that reason ‘Increasing our support for individuals’ is one of the five Themes of our Delivery Plan – where we set out how we’ll achieve the vision of Let’s Create. One of the several actions we pledged to take, to make that long-lasting change, was to bring together individual practitioners, cultural organisations, funders, unions and other key partners to explore the steps that together we can take to improve support for freelancers. And it will require all of you, whichever of those groups you find yourself in, to join us on this journey in order to really make a difference.  


Heart of Glass Events. Photo © Stephen King


But we don’t think it’s right for us to lead this conversation. It will take collective action, where we’re all held accountable. Above all, it’s imperative that the voices of those who work freelance are at the heart of the conversation. That’s why we have commissioned a collective of freelancers to develop and deliver the symposium; a consortium made up of representatives from Freelancers Make Theatre Work, Inc Arts, Migrants In Culture, Musician and Artist Exchange, people make it work, Something To Aim For and What Next?. 

We’re thrilled to be working with this consortium, which includes organisations and movements that are at the forefront of the conversation that’s already taking place. They’ve posed the question: How do we work together to resource and build equitable conditions for freelancers? We hope that in responding to this, the event builds on the richness of debate, research, analysis and energy that is already out there.   

The consortium has drawn on its own experience and expertise to shape the Freelance : Futures symposium. Taking place over nine weeks, it will make time to deeply engage with its wide-ranging 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. It’ll also offer the flexibility to dip in and out of the conversation, beginning with resources and workshops for participants to engage with before coming together at the symposium itself to discuss the current conditions and change that’s needed, and finishing with a second series of workshops to help implement the change that’s required.  

And to ensure the widest range of people can be a part of the conversation, we’ve funded this symposium to ensure it's free for everyone to attend – the cost of a ticket shouldn’t be a barrier. However, in recognition of the fact freelancers will not be earning when attending, we are offering bursaries of £250 each, while also inviting large employing organisations to nominate and commit to paying two freelancers within their eco-systems £250 each, to support their attendance to the symposium. 

So, this is an invitation. To everyone working across the arts, museums and libraries. To join the conversation, to share and to listen to what needs to be done, and to do your bit in making that change. Whatever your role in creativity and culture, or beyond it, you can make a difference. With everyone playing their part, we will see the transformation that’s needed. 

I’ll see you there.


Find out more about working at the Arts Council England

Explore current career opportunities at the Arts Council England

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