A few months ago we praised the UK for it’s culture-wide curation of the arts. The news we have today isn’t good but at least it’s attracting attention for an issue which, if the same study were published stateside, would be met with a shrug from the public at large.
The Guardian reported, based on a survey by the arts organization Create and Goldsmith’s University, that the UK’s creative industries are dominated by middle class people. That has implications not only for artists of working-class backgrounds but also for artists of different genders and ethnicities.
The findings prompted leading figures to express their concerns that the lack of diversity means the arts is becoming the preserve of the rich.
Almost 90% of the 2,539 respondents had been required to work for free at some point in their career, creating an environment that is unaffordable for those who do not have other means of financial support. Of those who did get paid, more than a quarter said they earned less than £5,000 a year. A further 18% earned £5,000-£15,000, and 38% did not have a contract that provided job security.
This imbalance was found to affect women more than men, with the latter earning an average of £7,000 a year more and having a mean income of £29,000 compared with £22,000 for women. The inequality was persistent across all sectors of the arts, and regardless of how long people had worked in their career.
The survey was published as further arts cuts were expected to be announced during the government’s spending review on Wednesday.
The Guardian quotes Create’s director Hadrian Garrard, who said that the UK was in danger of returning to a pre-1950s era when art was a closed-off playground for the wealthy. Compared to the last few decades, which Garrard called a “golden era,” that idea is pretty alarming. Suddenly the survey’s title, Panic! makes a lot more sense. The findings excuse the alarmist title. They are, according to Create:
- Those that earn over £50,000 p/a are most likely to believe that they got there through hard work, talent and ambition. Those earning under £5,000 p/a are most likely to believe that it’s not about what you know but who you know.
- The majority of white people in the arts don’t acknowledge the barriers facing BAME (black, asian and ethnic minorities) people trying to find a foothold in the sector.
- Women are more likely than men to have worked in the arts sector for free and once paid are generally paid less than their male counterparts.
- 30% of BAME people think ethnicity is very important to getting ahead, whilst only 10% of white people believe ethnicity is very important to their chances of getting ahead.
- 32% of women are likely to have done unpaid internships as opposed to 23% of men.
- On average men working in the cultural industries earn 32% more then women working in the sector
Even if you don’t subscribe to the absurd notion that people deserve to be paid for the work they do, this survey still doesn’t bode well for the arts. Art is valuable as a dialogue between the artists and their culture. What kind of dialogue can one hope for when the people talking all come from one narrow segment of society? Stagnation. An ineffectual elite endlessly glad-handing one another while other talent (perhaps more talented) is ignored due to the accident of its socioeconomic background. Suddenly the people arguing for further cuts to art funding start to resemble barbarians, sacking the country’s museums before the museums could be built.
We want to hear what our readers think of this study. How would you untangle this mess? Is the survey alarmist or does it predict a culture in danger of becoming stagnant. What does this mean for contemporary ceramic art in the UK?
Let us know in the comments.
Bill Rodgers is the Managing Editor of cfile.daily.