The World Transformed: Organising The Arts Sector

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.

Related: Five Things I Learned At The World Transformed (2019)

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 (Still: The World Transformed)

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.

An installation created by striking workers at Tate Modern (Image: PCS Tate United)

Before the workshop ended, we divided into small group discussions, and created a step-by-step plan for trying to move towards action, Christina summarised much of the group feeling:

“If we leave it to the people in charge, they could send us back to the prehistoric ages. We are reimagining life in a time that is trying to strip us [of it] in a way never seen before. We need to fight back."

In The Problem With Representation, Chardine Taylor Stone, Sonali Bhattacharyya, and Zita Holbourne spoke on diversity, inclusivity, and art as a form of very real labour.

Chardine Taylor Stone said that “this issue [is with] the pipeline: how people are taught what it means to be an artist."


Part of her concern is how the conversation has shifted from talking about labour to only talking about representation and the artist’s role. She feels “like it becomes a sort of self-serving exercise where we end up relying on the system actually being racist for us to exist to talk about it being racist”.


With the issue of women of colour being paid “50% of what a white man’s piece is worth”, part of her vision is to see the art world as less of a capitalist competition and more as a collective struggle.


A major part of this would be dismantling the Arts Council and incorporating it into society, similar to the NHS or public transport, because “that’s where we need to […] be thinking about Arts and Culture services in this country because […] it is an essential service”.

Sonali Bhattacharyya returned the conversation to jobs and, “recognising that redundancies are disproportionally falling upon working class people of colour”.


Highlighted with the TATE strikes, she said that artists, as precarious workers, should have solidarity for others in different fields but the same situation. As a playwright, she discussed “putting together a model of a different way of working that is more accessible for all of us” something that was influenced by the experience of bringing her child to rehearsals and seeing others follow suit.


This touched on the idea of recentring community theatre so that it is not perceived as a lesser form to, “the ‘grown-up theatre’ […] that the wise and witty goers understand”. While she describes the practical process of building unity as “the really, really hard nuts and bolts stuff”, she makes the point of reflecting on the practices we already have in place, and whether, “we have to put all of those […] neo-liberal power structures into our work […] [because] who does it serve?”.


Talking about the “horrifically racist” history of the Arts and Culture sector, Zita Holbourne expressed her frustration with the typecast image of PoC artists. Sonali described this expected role as the artist “being able to shed light on our ‘exotic […] worlds’”, and Zita points to the tokenism of Black History Month.


She breaks down this “pigeon-holed” representation by explaining that:


“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.”


In a broader sense, she notes that part of the issue is with the UK’s relationship with art and the production of art. The perception of an artist not being an authentic worker is like saying, “to a cleaner, ‘you’re really good at [cleaning], why don’t you do it for free?” As Sonali said, it is this entrenched feeling of being made to “feel grateful for simply being in the creative industries”.


The Radical Art Review is an official media partner of The World Transformed. This is a strictly non-commercial partnership based in solidarity and has no bearing on our funding, our editorial or our angle. Stay tuned for more as the week unfolds.

Matthew Magill is the poetry editor of the Radical Art Review. Reach him via radicalartreview [at] gmail [dot] com

The Radical Art Review is a non-profit cooperative platform fuelled purely by people power for those who think art holds the potential for social transformation. We publish the thoughts, philosophies, and stories of all who dare to dissent. We seek to inform, to empower, and to dream collectively of a better tomorrow.

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  © The Radical Art Review 2020