by Matthew Magill
“Artists don’t become artists for the genre of art they’re in, [or] because they want to produce art for somebody else. Actually, it’s something that’s in your gusts and in your spirits; it is something that you want to create because it’s within you to create.”
The World Transformed is an annual event “about imagining radical change and planning how to make it happen”. Starting in 2015, this event marks their fifth anniversary - with a difference. As with many festivals and live events, this year's TWT is convening over video conference. What's more, it is focusing in particular on the unprecedented threat to the UK's arts and culture sectors.
TWT's day of strategy for the arts and culture on September 5 explored the ongoing strikes at Tate; deep-seated issues surrounding diversity and inclusion in the arts; as well as the challenges of organising the sector in the face of deep austerity and redundancies.
Get caught up on the conversations driving the artists and organisers at the heart of the UK's cultural landscape with our summaries of the workshops and talks concerning the arts at TWT 2020.
Kicking off the day was Paul Valentine, an actor and equity councillor, who ran a session entitled 'Fighting back against mass redundancies in Arts and Culture'. The Zoom call had several speakers affected by the current strain on the arts sector: Rob Howat, Amanda Walker, Joe Hayns, Andrew Candish, and Christina Petrella.
Musician and courier Rob Howat quoted UK Music on how 72% of musicians are self-employed. This means no furlough scheme, with 83% of grassroots sectors at threat of close, he notes rent as a considerable - and eternal - issue. Many of the venues that would have supported musicians are struggling due to them being valued over £51,000, meaning they are unable to apply for small grants. 200 of these venues applied for the 'Coronavirus Business Interruption Scheme' but none were successful. His artist-led venue, Matchstick Piehouse, has been able to adapt to the regulations of social distancing to allow for partial opening but many other venues are too small to allow for this in practice.
Amanda Walker, the first black female warden at The Tower of London since 2017, works for Historic Royal Palaces, who are responsible for six of the UK's palaces.
At Hampton Court, Amanda, as well as being the Diversity and Inclusion Rep., is responsible for the artefacts, tours, and acts as a general point-of-contact for visitors. She is a duty-person but also a storyteller. The employees at HRP, despite most being on the lowest paygrades as casual workers, aka zero-hour contracts, are at risk of redundancy. Amanda believes that the government should be using funds to save jobs and not power construction projects because the palaces, she argues, are simply, “made of stone, [but] we bring them to life”.
Andrew Candish is a worker who has been with the National Theatre Southbank for seven years.
An usher, bartender, tour guide, administrator, and facilitator for children’s and community theatre events, despite his long-standing position he has no guaranteed redundancy pay-out. Joe Haynes, of Bectu Art Technicians, has also been involved in the legal protest, and his advice is to join a union. Employers, he explains, are susceptible to protests and bad press and points to the power of workforces with low density or ones that are not considered especially militant like the trade union workers. He uses the strikes at Tate as an example of how a company that needs a “particular Public to want to be there” are especially susceptible to this form of resistance.
Christina Petrella is involved with these Tate strikes, which are now on their 17th day. Three months ago, 313 redundancies were issues to workers in TATE Commerce section. As well as being the lowest paid workers within the TATE, they are also the most diverse. With the TATE still paying upper management over £100,000 and having received a 7 million government pay-out, nothing has been done to reduce these redundancies. As the gallery has previously described their work environment as “one family”, signs of the protest now read “we are betrayed”. Christina said that, “our fight fits the bigger picture […] we are not activists, maybe we have become, but we were not”. Artists have now redrawn from the TATE, and some members have been using their usual subscription to instead fund the strikes.