Creativity Works: Panic! participant, Rebecca Legister-Anderson, reviews the second in our series of Panic! panel discussions:
Is there enough diversity within the arts? Can you make it without coming from a privileged background? These were the burning questions at the Panic! Grit event, which I attended at the Barbican on Monday 29 November, a debate about how a career within the arts now only seems to be accessible for those from a white, middle class background.
On the panel were:
Aditya Chakrabortty, a senior economics commenter for The Guardian, who chaired the debate.
Frances Corner, Head of London College of Fashion and author.
Catherine Ince, Senior Curator at the V&A.
Dr Sam Friedman, Assistant Professor of Sociology at The London School of Economics
Holly Fulton, award-winning women’s wear designer based in East London.
It was easily agreed that it has become more difficult to pursue a career in the arts or media if you’re from a non-privileged background, with 44% of those within the TV, film and music industries being privately educated.
Competition is fierce for jobs and experience is key to getting your foot in the door. Unpaid internships are now the most common way to gain this valuable experience but prove to be a barrier for those from a non-privileged background; to take on these internships without a paid job to fund living costs. I can easily draw from my personal experiences as an aspiring journalist, and those of my friends who are seeking to kick start a creative career, having to instead balance working a full time or part time job to support themselves while working on a creative project.
The panel discussed the unfairness of unpaid internships; in which one member of the audience became heated at the fact actors are not paid for student films. Members from the Panic! team also shared their stories, including Symphonni, an aspiring journalist who had to leave college to look after her ill grandmother, Lizzie, an unemployed graduate from a Film and Television degree at LCC and Nadia, a non graduate looking to gain experience and find work in journalism and broadcasting. When the panel asked the team whether they think they will make it into their chosen careers, it was responded to with mixed feelings and an overall pessimistic tone that it is looking unlikely.
This is the state of the creative industry today. It’s become an exclusive club for those with money, and often with the bank of mum and dad paying for your entry fee – while it’s become a pipe dream for those outside. Unsurprisingly, there are also some people who believe there are no such problems. This was evident with another member of the audience who seems to come from a privileged background, claiming people “just need to get off their arses, not wait around for help and just get on with it”. Having stated beforehand that he runs his own business and bankrolls his own daughter through her creative career, he is happy to stay in his own bubble, not fully understanding challenges that the non-privileged face.
But it is time for change and bubble needs to be burst. The arts industry needs a shake up. As a result, some would say that the arts and creative sector has lost its edginess and grit due to everyone in the industry coming from a similar background. Actress Julie Walters, who hails from a working class background, also shares a similar view stating that “working class kids aren’t represented [within contemporary dramas]” and that she would have struggled to make it as an actress if she had started her career today.
The debate was well worth going to. It is obvious that more diversity and equality is needed within the arts and it is brilliant that programmes like Create Jobs can help those access opportunities that wouldn’t otherwise be possible.
Creativity Works is Mayor’s Fund for London programme, supported by the Berkeley Foundation and Be Open and delivered in partnership with Create and A New Direction.