In June 2020, out of the blue, I received an email inviting me to participate in a research project: ‘The Free Artist?’. Lockdown was continuing – when it started in March I was sure it would be all over by June.

Sometimes it’s not the size of the job, or the project, it’s how it makes you feel that’s more important, and this offer made me feel included in a discussion that was becoming the real topic of the day – what does it mean to be a freelancer? As well, I perceived in this offer the generosity and innovative thinking that characterises Jacky Lansley – independent dance artist and founder of Dance Research Studio.

The pandemic has taken much from us, but it has also offered something valuable – space to think. ‘The Free Artist?’ project has offered me a formal context to take some of my thinking and reflecting into, and has afforded me the very welcome “obligation” to give form to thought, doubts and sensations, which has been invaluable for me as I navigate this complex time.

Dance Research Studio (DRS), as its name suggests, is an organisation that puts research at the heart of everything they do. The studio itself provides residency space for independent dance artists to investigate processes and develop practices. This is not a production house, for all that shows may emerge from the workings within, it’s a place for delving in to ways of working, questioning motivations, and researching ideas.

‘Since its foundation in 2002, DRS has constantly sought to support and promote inclusive practice, artistic ambition, risk taking, collaboration, environmental responsibility and bold leadership. The organisation is part of a national ecology of UK smaller arts organisations that offer flexible off and online access and resources to mainly freelance, innovative artists who often work across disciplines. This community takes risks, generates new strategies and finds ways of working that are relevant to many different and diverse communities; traditionally it feeds mainstream culture with fresh talent and ideas, often without due recognition.’

It is an absolute pleasure to be involved in ‘The Free Artist?’ project and to be associated with this splendid organisation, and I look forward to reading the outcomes of the project, input from the other freelancers, in due course. 

Susan Kempster

Three dancers in a rehearsal room