We Out Here: Create London
We Out Here, is a series exploring the ways in which alternative organisations across the UK are helping to provide jobs, support and funding to the creative industries.
If we think of areas such as Hackney, Newham and Waltham Forest, we think of them as densely populated boroughs filled with a mixture of the working class and university educated, first and second generation immigrants from across the seven continents and the dyed in the wool Cockney family. With a particular focus on the East End, Create London is a charitable organisation established almost a decade ago, with its work rooted in the contribution of art and artists to the lives of people who live in cities. Despite well meaning and generally authentic notions of inclusivity, forging genuine connections between those disparate communities within communities and the art world is one of biggest challenges facing the sector.
Create London Director Hadrian Garrard describes the initial aims of the organisation.
"The work we were doing then was to figure out why that was on one hand and to find new ways of working and sharing information with galleries and institutions and encouraging institutions to work outside their walls in different ways, which might be a way of creating different kinds of relationships with different kinds of people in the East End.
That remains our core area of interest; why it’s good to have artists in the city and what are the arguments for having art and artists in cities that goes beyond the economic arguments in terms of opportunities for different kinds of people, spaces for people of different cultural and social economic backgrounds, job creation and complex areas around regeneration and growth in cities as well. "
In 2018 Create London shared the Panic! report, a project led by sociologists from the Universities of Edinburgh and Sheffield, that investigates inequalities in the cultural workforce as well as a public programme that aims to make a significant step to start a more effective conversation within the industry. The report was a continuation of a project initiated in 2015 which included a nationwide survey of artists and creative industries workers (the Panic! dataset) and follow up interviews.
“There never was a golden age and it’s always been really bad. It’s always been elitist.”
It showed the industry to be somewhat less progressive than first imagined.
"Our starting point with this was that we thought that things had gotten worse because of things like tuition fees, the cost of living, changes to the benefits system. We thought that there used to be this golden age that ran from say the late 60s until the mid 80s where young people from working class and ethnically diverse backgrounds could have opportunities to work in film, TV, fashion, art, music and that that was why, culturally, we became really strong and a really big hitter globally. We had this mixture of working class, middle class and posh kids together making an industry. We were looking at our favourite bands who had people who had met at art school and had a mixture of different people in them. We thought it came to and end because of these big policy changes and the way that British society was segmenting into a much much more inequitable status.
The alarming thing was that there never was a golden age and it’s always been really bad. It’s always been elitist. It’s got a little bit worse but not much. For us that was really depressing. We were creating this narrative where we were arguing the the reason we were really good at it was because we were all really diverse but of course we weren’t! It’s always been a bit of a closed shop."
The idea for the report was for it to be a dispassionate, data driven piece of analysis designed to encourage people who work in the sector running big and small arts organisations see the situation as it is and enact positive change. While there is a sense that this is a shared ambition, a natural inclination towards self preservation persists.
"What you’re talking about is people leaving their jobs. People in power leaving their jobs. People doing other kinds of work, people making space for different kinds of voices. That’s quite a difficult thing for people to get their heads around. Whether people have the right to be in a certain role or whether they’re occupying a space that could be better used by someone else. I include myself in that. I include my own job and the jobs of people working in our own office. Maybe we’re not the right people to be doing the kind of work that we do, I don’t know. It raises very big questions and there is a lot of resistance."
"I think some of the things people say who are being resistant have been debunked through that (Panic) research. One of them being around talent and hard work. The fact that people who hold really good jobs or positions of whatever kind in the creative industries tend to believe themselves that they got there through their own talent and their own hard work rather than as a result of maybe talent and maybe hard work but also privilege. The inability of people to see their own privileges and to see that they’ve had a leg up has been quite well debunked.
In various different aspects of British working life people are looking differently at this kind of thing which I think is encouraging."
The information gathered by the numerous research papers commissioned by Create London is used to assist a project called Create Jobs founded way back in 2010/2011. The day to day is now run by co-founders A New Direction with Create London acting primarily in an advisory capacity.
“They (A New Direction) work with about 400 young people every year, 100 or so of which go into full time employment within the sector. They’ve got a good methodology now which is a series of four or five projects each year which look at a particular sector in the industry. So it’d be in fashion, design, coding and tech and they’ve just launched this big programme around working in museums and the heritage sector in London.
They’ll work with a cohort of young people and offer training, mentoring and a brokerage service where they’ll get them work in those industries. It works very well in it’s own way.
There are a lot of other programmes and projects led by different organisations like Arts Emergency and others but they tend to focus more on mentoring and higher educations whereas Create Jobs is looking specifically at paid work which I think has its own place in the ecology.”
It goes back to the Panic research,
“They’re all addressing a really big problem in the sector. The art and creative industry sector is still the most elitist and less reflective of British Society as a whole of pretty much every sector in the country. Despite its ambition to make the world a better place and do good, and the left leaning people who work in it, it’s still really, really bad at having a broad and representative workforce.”
There are other sectors you wouldn’t have necessarily pinned as diverse who are perhaps doing a better job.
“It’s funny how some industries are so much more advance in this than others. We have colleagues who work in finance, to give an example. It’s weird because we all think of finance as being the baddies and that the cultural industries are really ethical and moral. But if you look at the employment practices within the financial sector it’s so much more advanced than the cultural sector. People are working to quotas, there’s well developed programmes to get people in from different backgrounds and the workforce is much, much more diverse. That in a way speaks for itself.”
The impact of the Panic report will take some time to digest and it’s likely to be a while before change can analysed on both an empirical and social level but change does appear to be coming nevertheless.
“For us we have to look at our own organisation and its inequalities. Who’s on our board, who’s in our office, what kinds of artists we’re working with and how we’re choosing them and making changes within our own little organisation. I feel that’s within our control. What other people choose to do or not is a much less clear question but hopefully with some fresh and impactful and rigorous research I hope it becomes a tool that people can use.”
“We’ve been spending a lot of energy and time establishing things that we hope to go on for a long time.”
Broader representation in the workforce is one way of breaking down the barriers of elitism from an employment perspective and an increasingly large area of focus for Create London is on integration.
“The general trend in the work that we’ve been doing is to try and set things up that become their own organisations or self sustaining projects. We’ve had a move away from doing temporary projects in the public realm because for us it doesn’t feel morally right to just do a little project with a community and then go off and do something else.
So we’ve been spending a lot of energy and time establishing things that we hope to go on for a long time. To gather a group of residents and people who live in a particular part of East London and to give them a voice and a way of engaging with something for a very long time.
We set up a soft play in a leisure centre in Barking, a drinks company (we set up) is now in its fifth year and is doing great and the artist is doing an amazing job in creating a movement within that project. We’ve got spaces that we run now; The White House and Rabbits Road Institute in East London are both going to be there for many years. We’re trying to take a long slow look at places and to make commitments to particular areas.”
There is an assumption that once people behind the scenes are more reflective of society, the art given prominence in the public realm will be more reflective and in turn, those interacting with the art world will be from a broader background as well.
All the micro communities within macro communities actually feeling that art in their area is for all, rather than just seeing it written in the small print of its promotional material.