In the pandemic, government and Arts Council England built a defensive hedge around the most visible aspects of the arts infrastructure. Staffers in institutions got time, space and money to address fragile business models and secure their futures. However, the emergency arts funding schemes for freelance artists failed to address their artistic, emotional and livelihood needs.
The exclusive and short-term emergency arts funding schemes from government and Arts Council England to freelance artists failed to address their livelihood needs, with the majority allowed to fall through the cracks. Early evidence from a longitudinal study surprisingly demonstrates that the lives and artistic prospects of many artists positively improved in pandemic conditions. This offers clues to the substantial shifts in arts infrastructures necessary to honour and sustain the talents and vibrancy of the diverse artists’ constituency in future.
Delivering ‘human thriving’ in and through the arts, including fair pay for artists, in a pandemic world calls for substantial shifts in how arts policies are made and where they are realised.
Government and Arts Council England were praised in the Covid19 emergency for fast implementation of ad hoc strategies for financial support for arts and cultural institutions and job retention schemes for salaried staff. Despite the equality and diversity rhetorics of the funded arts, analysis of responses to the DCMS Inquiry into the Impact of Covid-19 reveal that individual freelance visual artists will suffer worst unless additional remedial actions are taken.
This submission was made in June 2020 to the DCMS Committee considering the impact of Covid-19 on any sectors under the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport’s remit. It contextualises artists’ livelihood frameworks and sectoral artistic and economic opportunity, highlighting key challenges and barriers faced by this particular sub-section of the creative industries. It evidences the distinctive limitations of short-term emergency measures from Government and the Arts Council to alleviate immediate Covid19 circumstances. Although arts policy marginalised support for artists’ livelihoods after the 2008 recession, the examples of artists’ individualised resilience strategies illustrate the scope and value of supportive interventions by policy relevant to forecasting new strategies for ameliorating the medium and longer-term effects of the pandemic on this vital, distinctive creative industries sub-section. The rationale for structural changes in implementation of arts policy and funding is to remove known barriers and better in future capture and amplify the assets that artists create for their own resilience and bring to social well-being over a life-cycle.
“We cannot be content to go back to what was before, as if all is normal… there needs to be a resurrection of our common life.” Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury.
The Easter sermon – opined from the Archbishop’s kitchen and disseminated via social media to some 18,000 people – provided the cue for a discussion on how to ensure artists’ survival in an arts and cultural environment poleaxed by Covid-19.
“This is a moment fraught with possibility.” Isabelle Tracy, Parallel State: State of the Nation podcast 27 March 2020
This text in the Covid19 portfolio is on the future of artists’ livelihoods. It starts by evidencing the impact of external trends on visual artists’ livelihoods. It then identifies some of the policy misassumptions and structural barriers that limit artists’ livelihood prospects before demonstrating that visual artists as a ‘special case’ within the arts workforce are deserving of individualised attention within arts policies. It concludes by outlining the core qualities for pursuit of livelihoods through art practices that enable many artists to contribute to society over a life-cycle as a point of reference for policy-making during the Covid19 emergency and into the uncertain decade ahead.
Although 77% of visual artists are registered as self-employed (CCS, 2012), this bald statistic belies the nuance of how livelihoods are made up. This short text in the Covid19 portfolio contextualises artists’ income sources and concludes with a call for arts funders, arts organisations and the Higher Education sector to advocate strongly to ensure visual artists receive the support they deserve during the Covid19 emergency and in future.
After an introduction to the specific economic circumstances of visual artists and, mindful of the wide and extensive impacts of the pandemic on their work prospects and livelihoods, this text in the Covid-19 portfolio includes a four-point ‘hopeful proposal’ that sets out how to ensure artists survive the fall out, and can bring their multiple values to benefit the arts and society in the decade ahead.