Are the Creative Industries Too Posh?

by apatheticacademics



With an emphasis on connections, or “networking”, and unpaid internships, are the creative industries becoming merely the reserve of upper-middle class families, able to subsidise their children’s ‘hobbies’ and careers?

In 2010 the now defunct music magazine The Word published their findings from research into “the poshness”[1] of a segment of the music charts from October of that year. The results were incredibly damning of diversity, over 60% of the current chart were privately educated, from large fee paying schools, compared with only 1% “two decades before”. This has since been discredited and the figure now stands at 30%, instead of a private education we now see a migration to specialized schools such as the Brit school, although free, and a development of ‘a boys club’ surrounding the industry itself, [2] built around private relationships and free internships. There is a lot of contradicting evidence within these arguments, however, it is certainly true that music, and other arts, are suffering from a lack of diversity, relying on informal ‘networks’ and certain pathways, such as the Brit school, to cherry pick new talent. This has not been helped by subsequent governments and their war on creative subjects[3]. The government has continually reinforced the view that the arts should suffer first in times of austerity, with consecutive governments eager to slash artistic subjects’ funds in every education budget, resulting in dwindling year on year spending on arts subjects over the past decade. Music education budgets have suffered from this particularly, dropping from £82.5m in 2010-11 to £58m in 2014-15. These cuts have completely destroyed the music resources which underprivileged children depend upon, including access to instruments and technologies such as recording. Comprehensive music classes will soon be the preserve of those who can afford to go private, leaving millions of families in the position of sacrifice, choosing to learn an instrument and be without or to not learn one at all.

This divide is not only apparent when we consider the producers of art but also the people working at different levels of the artistic industries: the record company staff, the gallery workers and the workers behind the scenes at television studios. These are systems built around unpaid work, with the promise of a possible paid position at the end of your tenure if you are either lucky or become indispensable, resulting in the proverbial all stick no carrot. In a survey of over 5,000 people who work in television by the organisation Creative Skillset, [4] it was uncovered that over “77%” of the people who responded had taken up unpaid work to achieve their current job. This was mirrored in the job application process itself, with unpaid work experience being the gateway into a job for “48%” of the workforce questioned. This process creates within the artistic workforce a clear path to glory where you must suffer before you succeed, not making money and living off false promises of a potential job. Jobs become the right of people who have toiled, free of charge to the employer, creating within the workforce positions only attainable through personal sacrifice. This would be unthinkable in other industries. Take for example the catering sector, if a potential employer advertised a bar or waitressing job with the tag line ‘this is great exposure’ or that after ‘a six month unpaid internship you might be in contention for a full time position’, they would be scorned from all sides and rightly so. There is little difference between this example and the numerous positions advertised daily within the creative sector.

We see this train of thought continue when we consider the creative industries as being poor, not turning a profit or in fact being a collection of well meaning, and even registered, charities. This is a fallacy. The creative industries are still one of the biggest industries within the UK, earning an estimated $8 million for the UK economy every hour according to official government statistics,[5] equating to over $71.4 billion a year to the UK economy. The same creative sector which requires free work, registered a growth in profits of “almost 10%” in 2012, “outperforming all other sectors of UK industries”. These creative industries are not small, unprofitable charities but rather huge global brands wielding both great profit and power. So why, within all of this, are they built upon a base of free labour?

It isn’t that these creative organisations need this creative flow of labour, but rather they use it as a means through which they can maximise both profits and work force productivity. The truth of all of this, however, is more sinister than a few organisations cutting corners and the implications are being grossly underrated within our current society. We have willingly created a two – tire system within the creative industries, via this over reliance upon unpaid work, companies and organisations have closed the door on a large section of younger people. Only the people who can rely upon their own families’ means are able to take up a full time, unpaid position, which opens the doors to these organisations. This has created a perpetual movement of labour. Upper middle class children have access to these positions through this self-sacrifice, paid for by wealthy parents, and thus the creative industries become embroiled within a self-fulfilling ideal wherein access is only granted to their own type of people. This is mirrored throughout the figures on employment within the creative industries, a stunning “56%” found their current role from “informal networks” of friends and family. The industries have become gentrified through their own policies, informal or otherwise, cutting off underprivileged children and ultimately relying on systems of recruitment that determine that this underprivileged demographic are excluded completely. The upper echelons have cornered both the production and the business of art, becoming the gatekeepers of all our tastes.

Obviously this short piece has concentrated heavily on music, this being the subject I know most about, however these problems are rampant throughout most ‘creative’ or ‘artistic’ industries. The implications of this have yet to be fully realised, although a more pacifist and inane artistic mainstream is already in full flow. It is clear when artistic communities drastically separate themselves from certain segments of British society, through government cuts and active recruitment; then the less diverse and indeed divisive the emerging art, music, television and film of the next decades will become, trading upon bland and safe versions of creativity. If this becomes the case we will be significantly poorer both as a society and as individuals.