By Athena Stevens who spoke at the Westminster Media Forum this week
I get it. This government gave out a history making 1.57 billion to save our world-renowned arts.
Yet nobody feels like they’ve had enough support, I get it.
Our government is going to have to recover from a huge economic loss, and this virus hasn’t stuck to anyone’s timeline. I get it.
And here come the freelancers asking for more. And great, they sent a disabled woman to pull on your heartstrings at the end of a long session. Why couldn’t we just stop after Rufus?
So why am I here? I’m an Olivier- Nominated playwright and performer; an associate artist at the Globe and Finborough Theatres. I also have a die-hard conservative mother, a father who is a financial analyst, and an MA in entrepreneurship.
I’m here as a businesswoman. Investing in freelancers will give you a financial return, as well as ensuring British Culture remains world leading.
Here’s the plan.
Step One: Start investing in creative freelancers to do work, both as individuals and side-by-side with institutions.
The first round CRF funding was expressly forbidden from being used to generate work.
Essentially that stopped our production line. And it meant that freelancers, the people who generate the work, suddenly had zero job opportunities.
This week the same organizations who asked for funding before are back at your door, because they have no product.
Freelancers can find Covid-safe ways to create and sell work now. We can create revenue and jobs now. But we need to have paid jobs to get that revenue flowing again.
We’ve lost seats in our theatres, but we’ve gained, virtually, the whole world as an audience. Can we capitalise on that? How do we use digital storytelling to expand our legacy as world leaders in performance? What if the next Shakespeare is in your constituency and now is the historical moment to fund them?
Step Two: Establish local creative public service jobs to stimulate local growth and levelling up.
Two weeks ago, KPMG released a report. They said “high streets could lose 20%-40% of their retail due to an increase of online commerce.” Their solution? “High streets will need to be reimagined as cultural and recreational hubs that will act as magnets for businesses and jobs able to transform less prosperous areas”
When our accountants tell us to invest in creativity, it will provide dividends.
Last year’s comprehensive spending review made it clear giving every child a superb education and cutting crime were your priorities. Sending a paid collective of freelance workers into every local authority to engage communities both in schools and town centres would provide education and opportunities.
Step Three: Make sure publicly funded performing arts organisations incorporate and protect freelancers in their power structures.
Arts organisations have the power to give and take away jobs. But freelancers are the creative motors within this industry. Yet few theatres have freelancers to reflect our experience within their leadership. Thus we cannot be used to our full potential.
In particular, we desperately need greater understanding and more direct engagement between Arts Council and freelancers in every discipline, not just lead creatives such as writers, directors and choreographers.
The DCMS can remedy this by insisting that no organisation, including the Arts Councils, receive public funds unless freelancers have seats at their table of power and a safeguarding system that is set up to advise freelancers should issues arise.
Step Four: Modernise your tax system to support the innovation you want, starting with new tax codes.
The self-employed vote was a significant part of the Conservative Party’s majority at the last election. That’s support both parties should be courting.
If you say you want a nation full of innovators and progressive creators, then you need a tax system that works for them.
The chancellor admits that changes need to be made to how self employed are taxed. Great.
Let’s start with a system of tax codes for freelancers. Watch how our income changes as we work in different venues, sometimes as employed, sometimes as self employed. Give tax breaks to individuals who want to invest in emerging artists as patrons. And provide all self employed with statutory maternity pay and parental leave.
In 2016 I invested in this government’s Seed Entreprenual Investmest Scheme. At the end of last year, that investment gave me a dividend. With that money I was able to create two projects, which together had 17 jobs for freelancers. It kept them off universal credit for four months.
If you invest in freelancers, they create jobs for each other.
If you listen to freelancers, they will help you to innovate and move our communities out of the pandemic.
If you embed freelancers within the power systems of the buildings, you will create a healthier arts ecosystem for all