By Matt Humphrey
This week sees the first of our series of solutions-based panels that we are calling Future Labs. It feels like it has been a long time in the planning. We’ve wanted to get it right, and make sure that there is balance – and space – for these crucial conversations to happen between freelancers and artistic directors. I’m proud to say that it feels like we have achieved that.
I was attending the first panel as a freelancer although, like many others in the room, I wear and have worn multiple hats. In recent years a lot of my work has been through the startup I co-founded, Curtain Call, where we have spent hundreds of hours speaking and working with thousands of freelance creatives, technicians and producers.
Over the last few months I’ve been lucky enough to work with an extraordinary group of volunteer freelancers at FMTW – my new work family – on a number of initiatives and campaigns, including the Big Freelancer Survey which Curtain Call collaborated on. The overwhelming response to the survey brought a few salient points to the surface. Aside from the findings of the ‘Routes to Recovery’ report, freelancers in their thousands were telling us of their need to be involved in the conversations and future planning of the industry.
We realised that FMTW could be in a unique position to be able to facilitate these conversations, having forged a place within the community as an effective conduit between the larger pool of freelancers, and other stakeholders. What the future of our industry looks like demands attention, input and focus from all angles. These are important considerations and challenges we face, and we must include as wide and as representative a voice as possible. They cannot happen behind closed doors, or continue to exclude freelancers.
And thus Future Labs was born out of this need to establish immediate, effective and pragmatic solutions that help get the industry back on track, and freelancers back to work.
Despite my involvement in the planning and organisation of Future Labs, I was nervous in the run up to the first panel. Serious imposter syndrome began to kick in. Would I be able to contribute anything of worth to these conversations to be able to move towards practical solutions? I spoke with a couple of friends at FMTW beforehand, poured myself a stiff coffee, took some deep breaths and logged in to Zoom.
What could easily have felt like a ‘them and us’ situation was dispelled immediately. Expertly chaired by the wonderful Peter McKintosh, this Zoom-room was a safe space, filled with people who had all come with the same love for the industry, and desire to change. Most artistic directors are ex-freelancers, and it cannot be underestimated how much empathy there was for the position we are in right now as freelancers, coupled with a fierce resolution to make things better.
Aside from the alignment of wanting to find solutions, what was incredible was just how varied the provocations and examples of good practice were. We spoke about the importance of connectivity, as well as transparency. We held up a mirror to ourselves to acknowledge the imbalance of existing hierarchies and power structures in place. We exposed vulnerabilities and identified the need for accountability in all processes.
We recognised the pivotal moment of rupture that we are in right now, and how this year has provoked a lot of introspection. Being a freelancer isn’t easy, and this year has proven just how fragile a position we are all in when it comes to job security and future planning. By nature us freelancers are adaptable to change, and resilient in the face of challenges. We find a way.
The past few months have been an important time for reflection, but that is not enough. We have to give room to, and create opportunities for these conversations to happen. But that is still not enough. We are asking the questions, discussing the challenges and then we have to push forward together to make the changes.
Future Lab attendees – Monday 5th October:
Vicky Featherstone, Libby Todd, Lisa Spirling, Matt Humphrey, Alex Clifton, Simon Sharkey, Yamin Choudury, Helen Griffiths, Daniel Evans, Ailin Conant, Tom Bird and Andy Whyment.
Host: Peter McKintosh
Producer: Jack Hudson
Full reports will be released from this and other panels this week.