How Brighton supports its artists working informally
In contrast to the more precarious and vulnerable livelihoods portrayed thus far, in this contribution to our collaborative series on urban livelihoods with WIEGO, Cara Courage shows how an enlightened government can recognise an informal sector as an economic asset and wholeheartedly supports its informal workers, as is the case with Brighton's support of its arts and creative industries.
Brighton has a reputation for being the creative hub of South East England, with the highest level of arts engagement in the country outside London and with one in five local businesses, ten per cent of local jobs and 16,000 people employed in its creative industries across digital media, architecture, visual and performing arts, music, publishing, film, gaming and e-learning. This creative population is also known to be transient, most often attracted to London after graduating or reaching the mid-stages of their career. To counteract this, the city council and funders work with creative and cultural organisations to nurture and retain this culturally and economically significant community in the city.
The creative business in the creative career
Artists in Brighton secure their income from a 'portfolio career' with monies coming from ad hoc and piecemeal activity. Commissions and the sale of work are part of this, but increasingly rare. More common are self-started projects that attract a fee or funding. Creatives find themselves leading working lives that demand flexibility and ingenuity when it comes to making money and advancing their careers, drawing upon a variety of skills and resources to earn their living across the informal sector.
This creative population is also known to be transient, most often attracted to London after graduating or reaching the mid-stages of their career. To counteract this, the city council and funders work to nurture and retain this culturally and economically significant community in the city.
JP, a mixed media artist, makes a living first from part-time teaching and fees from funded projects and then will think about producing work for exhibition and sale: 'I live in this city as it's relatively cheap to be in, I can afford a studio here as well as to keep my family. But I wouldn't say that I have a regular income stream.'
To supplement his income, JP seeks out opportunities that will raise his profile in the hope of getting further work or exhibitions: 'I have to be creative in both my artistic and business plans. My creativity needs to be fed and my artistic reputation maintained. By putting on my own performance nights, from which I get ticket monies, to doing something for free for a large public arts event or donating my work to a show, things which may not pay much or at all at the beginning can lead to funding, or mean that my name is the first to come to mind for a job further down the line.'
Monique, a fine artist, finds the business culture of Brighton essential in helping her work in the informal economy: 'I have a pay-cheque job which I work my creative practice around. My boss understands that I might need to leave early to go to a class that I run or work a short week if I have a show to get work ready for. Its part of how Brighton works as a city; my boss values the creative thinking I bring to the workplace and knows that I will always get the job done — it's give and take but it means I have a creative career still.'
The importance of Brighton's creative networks cannot be underestimated. Its bars and cafes are the hot desks and meeting rooms where those networks are built. And professional development events from formal training organised by the Chamber of Commerce to informal artist talks are just as integral.
Rachel is a poet who organises talks and workshops to supplement her income and like many, benefits from the networks formed to maintain this as a viable livelihood; 'It's key for me to feel connected to a creative community. Writing is lonely and its hard work, continuously self-starting projects to make money. The professional development support we get not only gives me emotional sustenance from talking to others in the same position but it has also lead to collaborations and casual and contract work.'
Self-starting doesn't just apply to individuals. From an open meeting at a gallery two years ago to explore how the digital and arts sectors could work together to showcase talent, create new work and develop public audience was borne the Brighton Digital Festival. The festival has grown to be a month-long calendar of 106 events, 110 participating creatives and an audience of 14,000, attracting National Lottery funding from Arts Council England on the basis of the importance of the digital sector to the city and the UK.
Creative practice to creative policy
Brighton's reputation as a creative city that empathises with its artists' ways of working is one of the reasons why artists are attracted to the city...
Funding cuts in the UK are having a deep impact on the arts scene nationwide and Brighton is no different, losing amongst others its annual White Night festival, a significant showcase of local activity. Support from policy makers in the city is thus becoming ever more vital.
Brighton and Hove City Council has a proactive approach to its creative workers, recognising them as a significant cultural and financial entity for the city and seeking out their opinions on policy creation. Donna Close, Arts & Cultural Projects Manager: 'The reputation of this city is so dependent on the health of its creative sector that the Council includes the arts and creative industries in its strategic thinking and planning.'
The Council works closely with the independent Brighton & Hove Arts Commission, for knowledge exchange and to comment on policy to meet the needs of the sector. It also consults with Wired Sussex for the digital sector and Made in Brighton for the music industry and is leading think tanks for the film industry, audience development and arts and young people.
Arts and creative industries are key priorities of the Local Strategic Partnership and Local Economic Partnerships and are a main thrust of the tourism and licencing strategies, essential for a seaside city dependent on its 732-million-pound tourist and night-time economies.
All this is joined together in the City Plan, which promotes new affordable studio, rehearsal and performance space in regeneration and mixed use development. Pop-up and change of use venues such as The Warren are actively supported, mirroring the flexibility and adaptability that artists need in their career paths.
There is much more than can be done and this needs to be based on valid evidence. The University of Brighton is researching the arts and digital sectors through its Brighton Fuse project which aims to map, measure and assist Brighton's creative, digital and IT cluster and its planning.
Tough as it is being a UK artist at this time with funding depleted and precarious income streams, Brighton's reputation as a creative city that empathises with its artists' ways of working is one of the reasons why artists are attracted to the city, and the Council is working to keep them here and keep them profitable.