The Economic, Social, and Cultural Impact of the COVID-19 Pandemic on Independent Arts Workers in the United Kingdom: Freelancers in the Dark, Survey Data, 2020-2021

Harris, Laura and FitzGibbon, Ali and Edelman, Josh (2024). The Economic, Social, and Cultural Impact of the COVID-19 Pandemic on Independent Arts Workers in the United Kingdom: Freelancers in the Dark, Survey Data, 2020-2021. [Data Collection]. Colchester, Essex: UK Data Service. 10.5255/UKDA-SN-856883

COVID-19 threatens the performing arts; closures of theatres and outlawing of public gatherings have proven financially devastating to the industry across the United Kingdom and, indeed, the world. The pandemic has sparked a wide range of industry-led strategies designed to alleviate financial consequences and improve audience capture amidst social distancing. COVID-19 has affected all levels of the sector but poses an existential threat to freelancers--Independent Arts Workers (IAWs)--who make up 60% of industry workforce in the UK (EU Labour Force Survey 2017). The crisis has put a spotlight on the vulnerable working conditions, economic sustainability, mental wellbeing, and community support networks of IAWs. IAWs are often overlooked by the industry and researchers, however it is their very precarity that makes them pioneers of adaptability responsible for key innovation within the sector. IAWs may prove essential for the industry's regrowth post-COVID-19. An investigation is necessary into the impact of COVID-19 on IAWs and the wide-ranging creative solutions developing within the industry to overcome them. There has been increasing pressure to gather 'robust, real-time data' to investigate the financial, cultural, and social potential long-term consequences of COVID-19 on the UK theatre industry. The impact of the pandemic on IAWs is particularly complex and wide-ranging. A TRG Arts survey stated that 60% of IAWs predict their income will 'more than halve in 2020' while 50% have had 100% of their work cancelled. Industry researchers from TRG Arts and Theatres Trust have launched investigations examining the financial impact of COVID-19 on commercial venues and National Portfolio Organisations, but there has been insufficient research into the consequences for IAWs (eg. actors, directors, producers, writers, theatre makers, technicians) and the smaller SMEs beyond income loss and project cancellation data. In May 2020, Vicky Featherstone of the Royal Court Theatre, stated the importance of support for the 'massive freelance and self-employed workforce' she believed has been 'taken for granted' by the industry. Our study fills this gap by capturing and analysing not only the economic impact, but the social and cultural transformations caused by COVID-19 by and for IAWs. We will compare regional responses across England, Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland as well as variations across racial and socio-economic groups. Our aims are to document and investigate the impact of COVID-19 on IAWs, identify inequalities in the sector, investigate changes in the type of work produced post-COVID-19, and help develop strategies for how the sector can move forward from this crisis. We will investigate connections between the financial consequences of COVID-19 and creative strategies for industry survival including social support networks, communication initiatives between arts venues and IAWs, and the development of mixed-media work in the wake of the pandemic. Our study scrutinizes the economic, cultural, and social impact of COVID-19 on IAWs and the organisations that serve them with the aim of informing strategies for sector recovery.

Data description (abstract)

This dataset pertains to a research project investigating the social, cultural, and economic consequences of COVID19 on independent arts workers, specifically in the theatre sector, across England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland. The project recognised the unique vulnerability of this workforce in dealing with the impact of COVID19. Their workplaces closed overnight and their sector transformed as theatres moved to digital delivery, and their employment status (freelance) made them ineligible for the UK government’s Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme. The motivation of the project was to understand: the employment experiences of this workforce during the first 18 months of the pandemic; how the pandemic affected their planning for the future; how the pandemic changed their creative practices and skills; what impact government and sectoral policy had on the workforce; and to find strategies for government and industry to support this precarious workforce. This data collection includes survey responses (n=397) to an online survey which ran from 23/11/2020 to 19/03/2021, and a database of policy events covering the period from the onset of the pandemic until 27/5/2022 (n=1353). This collection contains the survey data. The survey was run through the JISC surveys platform. It had 34 questions collecting a mixture of qualitative and quantitative data. Freeform text responses were alternated with multiple choice, multi-option and Likert scale. The survey captured data on theatre freelancers employment, emotional, and cultural experiences, the region(s) and setting(s) where they worked, and their age, gender identity, race, occupation(s).

Data creators:
Creator Name Affiliation ORCID (as URL)
Harris Laura University of Southampton
FitzGibbon Ali Queen's University Belfast
Edelman Josh Manchester Metropolitan University
Sponsors: COVID
Grant reference: ES/V011103/1
Topic classification: Labour and employment
Society and culture
Project title: The Economic, Social, and Cultural impact of the COVID-19 Pandemic on Independent Arts Workers in the United Kingdom
Grant holders: Holly Maples, Rosemary Klich, Kurt Taroff, Joshua Edelman, Ali FitzGibbon
Project dates:
26 July 202030 March 2022
Date published: 05 Feb 2024 14:50
Last modified: 08 Mar 2024 11:15

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