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  • Writer's pictureKeith Jeffrey

The Seven States of a Working Class Cultural Professional's Life

State 4: Encountering the System

The next state of the working class cultural professional experience what happens when you encounter the system.

Look, we all know the funding system is not great, EVERYBODY is ill-served by the way culture is funded and developed in this country, but given your pre-existing lack of social capital, this only makes the already difficult job of a working class cultural professional even tougher.

What do I mean by this? Simply put the funding and political systems do not recognise the value of your work, particularly if you are in the regions where you survive, have always survived, on minimal levels of investment.

This leaves you angry, bewildered, frustrated, wondering what the hell you have to do to get the rewards you deserve for the great work you do.

We know there is precious little to go around and it’s getting worse. Government funding decisions have not only crippled national Arts Councils but crucially have taken away the traditional third leg of support, Councils.

That said funding for London is 3 or 4 times per capita what the regions get.

How a single organisation can get 10 or twenty times what an individual city receives never ceases to bewilder me.

This leaves you battling away on tiny scraps of funding to deliver impact way in excess of the investment made but because you are not glamorous, sexy or “sectorally important” that work feels ignored.

Compliments and platitudes no longer cut the ice.

This is snobbery. It is real and it affects you.

Let’s be clear there is not enough money to go around, which makes competition tougher. I don’t envy funders, their judgements are tough to make and frequently go wrong, even with the best of intentions.

However, the truth is, even in the best of times, if you work outside the mainstream, in the regions or if simply your face does not fit then you will always struggle to progress.

A brute fact of life.

Every time you encounter this truth its shattering. It’s so blatantly unfair and yet nothing changes.

2 examples from my time in cultural leadership.

A now high profile Arts leader told the Arts Council my organisation was not a serious visual arts gallery because… well who knows. We weren’t meeting his standards on less than half the investment his gallery received but he was a significant cultural leader so his opinion mattered more than our reality.

On another occasion I was told my work would not get equitable funding with similar work in a bigger city because “You’re Derby.”

So snobbery is real and despite any messaging you might hear to the contrary funding decisions are not based on hard facts or cold policy deliberation. If they were, there would be an equitable share of public investment across the country.

The system is based on patronage. A focus on ‘excellence” and an inbuilt bias towards traditional “high brow” art forms in London mean that you, as a working class professional in the regions or even in a working class part of London, are unlikely to get the support you need for your work.

This is the system and if you want to live within it then you have to find a way to deal with its realities without it sending you over the edge or driving you out of the sector as it did me.

That grant application you put your heart and soul into turned down with spurious reasoning may simply be a victim of fierce competition. It’s tough to accept that as you may be too close to get a clear perspective on what to do next.

It’s important to understand this because when you feel this passionately, you can take it personally. Given the lack of social support it can leave you feeling frustrated, undermined, depressed even.

That’s why you need a helping, friendly hand to help you navigate the system, a mentor or a coach who can help you find the right perspective to keep you sane, focused and ready to bounce back with an even better proposition.

That’s how I can help. I have been on both sides of the funding system and can see the challenges which too often are not properly acknowledged.

Message me if you feel you need this type of support.

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