The Passion Industries Series

By Maeve

21 January 2013

Many people enter the creative industries believing that they will be able to realise themselves by exploring their passions.  Instead of grinding away in ‘some office job’ or losing oneself in the rat race, a career in the arts or media is seen as a labour of love and, hence, intrinsically more valuable than other career options.

However, this idealized version of working in the cultural sector is, in reality, a convenient excuse for under-paying or not paying workers, undermining labour rights such as limited working hours or holiday/sick pay, and keeping ‘freelancers’ locked in a relentless cycle of short-term contracts rarely resulting in permanent positions. 

In June 2012, Louise Owen and Sophie Hope, lecturers at Birkbeck University, sought to illuminate some of these issues of exploitation in the cultural sector.  In this series, I have collaborated with the conference organisers in reproducing the talks of several of their contributors.  Louise and Sophie open the series by discussing why they chose to organise a conference on these issues.  Elyssa Livergant explores the concept of ‘play’ in contemporary theatre practice, which instead of challenging the status quo of exploitative working conditions, simply reinforces it.  Broderick Chow analyses contemporary actor training and how it reflects and typifies practices of self-management across labour practices in late capitalist societies.  And the Precarious Workers Brigade respond to frequently asked questions as to why we should be concerned about exploitation in the cultural sector.  

Across these articles the issues of low/no pay, poor working conditions and precarity are raised time and again.   And yet, there is a distinct lack of resistance within the cultural sector.  We envisage this series as a starting point for discussing these issues and what can be done.  If you would like to contribute an article relating to any field in the cultural sector please contact

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4 Comments on "The Passion Industries Series"

By Michael Rosen, on 21 January 2013 - 09:43 |

Very interesting initiative. Might be necessary to look at Marx’s notion of alienated labour here. People who go into the creative industries who are a) over exploited (everyone in labour is exploited in a marxist sense) and/or b) self-exploit through freelance free labour, have in some mind that they have escaped alienated labour, that they are being in some way authentic, free, liberated etc. The question is whether we can show this in some objective way or not ie have they (we!) escaped anything? (realist view). Or is there some genuine way that by operating change on mental material and being the creator that we do escape alienation? (romantic view). 

By Rob, on 21 January 2013 - 12:26 |

Like most things the whole is more complex, far too simplistic to say creatives just think it’s about realising their passions . People go into the creative industries for a whole raft of reasons. I myself am a composer and I love moving people with what I create. Of course creatives get exploited, that is the notion of capitalism - it exploits everyone and everything. The self employed notion that you work hard and thereby get your gains without being exploited is as much as myth as the idea that the mass media represent the people. In the composing world the ‘market’ does rule driving prices and working practices to the lowest form whilst the media reinforce the notions of the glamorous lifestyle! What I find really interesting is that as technology has fallen into the hands of the many, which some on the left has seen as a democratising process, what in reality has happened is that now everyone thinks they are a composer, everyone who shoots video is a filmaker and everyone who takes a photo is a photographer. These ‘elitist’ (I dont think they are elitist per se) trades have now suffered because the market exploits and leads that trend and exploits the new technology and these new creators - who will work for nothing, low pay, bad conditions becuase they are buying into the dream. Divide and rule is just as prevalent to day as ever!

By Sara, on 22 January 2013 - 07:59 |

Just passing, but will just say that in the screen sector the fastest way to start to undo exploitation is to remove the government and industry standard costs associated with practising - the fact that necessary equipment, owned and supplied by ‘screen sector agencies’, costs unfunded practitioners to use, requiring them/us to resort to crowd-funding as a ‘new and exciting’ way of making films (remove the hiring costs and you won’t need crowdfunding, institute indie marketing assistance and you won’t need crowdfunding - and no, actors don’t get paid from crowdfunding anyway!) This means that screen practitioners start with an existing debt before they have even lifted a creative finger, and are required to spread themselves thin as chook raffle marketers, draining their creativity, patience and energy. So simple to change.

By Lorex, on 21 February 2013 - 04:51 |

It’s a catch 22. If you’re creative, and are pursuing that passion, it’s often the struggle of “making it” that creates the artist. Doing something you love to do that doesn’t feel like work? Often times that comes with a cost. You’re not really in it for the money. It’s not what drives you. Living life and doing what you have passion for is your pursuit. Working conditions? Low pay? That has and always will come with the territory. Without those variables, artists will have less of a story, less of a sole and less of a passion.

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