The Big Freelancer Report has been released and highlights the challenges faced by performing arts freelancers, in addition to suggesting practical changes to address these issues.
The coronavirus pandemic has severely affected the freelance workforce, including artists, technicians and craftspeople, and the recovery of the performing arts sector depends on the health of such freelancers. While Covid-19 has undoubtedly had an impact on the performing arts, the report has found that freelancers in the industry have historically faced challenges that existed prior to the onset of the pandemic.
The Big Freelancer Report states that over the last 50 years, permanent employment for artists has dwindled, with 94% of the work that goes into English theatre and productions being ‘entirely reliant on the freelance workforce’. Because of this business model, freelancers were consequently left vulnerable, with these vulnerabilities (such as unstable sources of income and little to no employment protection) being exacerbated due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Freelancers rely on their reputation as a means of securing future employment, and this can actually work against them. The Report found that as a result of this ‘reputational aspect’, freelancers may be discouraged from ‘push[ing] back against poor pay and conditions, abuses of power, and unsafe working practices’. This would most commonly affect women, and particularly women of colour.
The Report notes that during the pandemic, the performing arts sector workforce was largely left unrepresented and with no capacity to directly benefit from the government’s cultural recovery scheme.
With regard to actions to take going forward, the Big Freelancer Report makes several recommendations. In the short term, the Report suggests that excluded groups should be protected by actively petitioning for Arts Council and Culture Recovery Fund monies to directly benefit freelancers through training and skill retention. To ensure the safe return of live performances, the Report also recommends that a sector-wide return strategy be created in consultation with experts from specialist organisations.
In the long term, the Report declares that large changes must be made to support freelancers in the performing arts:
‘The sector cannot - and must not - return to ‘business as normal’, which to freelancers represents economic exploitation, poor working conditions, a lack of inclusivity, and an inability to shape or determine sector strategy. Systemic change is required to build a more resilient future.’
The Big Freelancer Report was created by an independent group of performing arts freelancers, supported by Freelancers Make Theatre Work and funded by Arts Council England.
For more information on Freelancers Make Theatre Work, click here.
To read the Big Freelancer Report in full, click here.