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 firstname.lastname@example.org.