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Freelance study shows workers subsidise the arts

One of the country’s biggest studies into the arts during the coronavirus crisis of the past year has shown that our vibrant theatre industry survives by leaving the vast majority of its practitioners on the breadline.

The Covid-19 pandemic has thrown into sharp relief the plight of a 200,000-strong workforce of freelance artists, technicians and craftspeople on whom the performing arts sector has depended for years. The claims come in The Big Freelancers Report from advocacy group Freelancers Make Theatre Work.

Over the past 50 years, permanent employment for artists has largely disappeared; today 94 per cent of theatre work is entirely reliant on the freelance workforce - many of whom have had no help during their personal financial crisis.

The COVID-19 pandemic created a situation in which the greatest part of the performing arts workforce was left with no representation, no access to influence or communication, no direct benefit from the government’s cultural recovery plan, and, in some cases, no income support.

Existing problems of employment status, fair pay, talent development and training and working conditions already place burdens on freelances, and Covid-19 not only made them worse but added new, even bigger problems.

The report calls on the sector - especially the army of permanently-employed arts workers with jobs in supported theatres and organisations - to actively lobby for Arts Council and Culture Recovery Fund cash for freelances.

The organisation asks the industry not to return to "business as usual" when the pandemic subsides, since it means, “economic exploitation, poor working conditions, a lack of inclusivity, and an inability to shape or determine sector strategy.

“Significant issues must be addressed, including greater employment protection, fair pay, talent development and training, working conditions, inclusion, and the underlying power imbalance and lack of access to sector assets.”

Though many parts of the industry will have sympathy for the stance of the lobby, many theatres will point to the fact that that very few are generously funded - and ultimately the root cause is a lack of government funding for all sectors of the arts.

Read the full report here

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