Pragmacy and Advocacy

Female dancer bent backwards under the apparent weight of artistically wound ropes, her eyes are shut and she gives an aura of strength and perseverence

Ffion Campbell-Davies performing Boundless at DanceGRiST at the RSA, (c) Kate Coleman and DanceGRiST 2019

We are now into the fifth week of CF:S LR (Creative Freelancers: Shaping London’s Recovery). I’ve met some awesome artists and been introduced to interesting establishments. I’ve seen and experienced the challenges of bringing a group of hugely diverse creative practitioners of varying neurotypes, origins and abilities. And I think I have a handle on the work. But I’m getting ahead of myself. This post discusses the journey of my group. Just six of the 50-strong creative freelancer cohort. The edited version will be in the first CF: SLR newsletter. It follows in full.

The CF: SLR Context. Skip if you already know it.

We have been split into two large groups and one small group, each group reflecting the original three themes; jobs and conditions, establishing skills and advocacy. Each Creative Freelancer has been introduced to a Partner Organisation with whom we will also work. This fifth week marks our entry from a kind of introduction phase to the next one.

Find out more at


Pragmacy and Advocacy – the full version

The ‘advocacy’ group to which I have been allocated is a small but wonderful group of people. Had I the time I would have sent this out to our group for comments. But I don’t, so I need you to know that what follows is my opinion and my opinion only.

After this fifth session I finally feel that we have a handle on what is expected of us, as well as what we expect of ourselves. The two are different. I understand that this is the second part of a very long process and that while we are working with the Mayor, he in his turn is working with an organisation looking at a UK-wide charter. I understand that might well strengthen our case. I can grasp that our ideas, suggestions, and comments need to be synthesised to be practical. I know it will come but – for now –  don’t have a good picture of the overall analytic or synthetic structure that will do this (unless constant exhortations to do it ourselves count). All this is important because it means that my opinions, and our collaborative work, might change as we respond to this by looking collaboratively at the best ways to use our time.

Our group has, I think, established four working levels: Quick Wins, Reasonably Quick Wins, Longer Term Stuff and Really Strategic Stuff.

Quick Wins

Quick Wins are pragmatic things that we can do to make a difference within a couple of weeks. One of those – a Charter that might be voluntarily adopted by those creating competitions for content or artistic works – is something I started. Rather than list complaints (why particular competitions are rights-grabs, what fair recompense looks like, how to recognise creative freelancers time creativity, intellectual or moral rights inter alia) I thought it would be worthwhile to give organisations a Charter to which London businesses, marketing organisations and others can subscribe.  It is a consolidation of what I’ve found on best practice for those areas with which I am familiar. I hope to get feedback from other Creative Freelancers for their own specialist areas. I think we can have something ready to present for comments to the entire CF:SLR group by the first week of September, then I can consolidate all the comments, run it by the unions I can find, and give it to Fuel and the Mayors’ office for a final legal run-through and – hopefully – subsequent use.

In talking this through with the group it transpired that it might be appropriate to create a Call Out Charter or at least Statement of Best Practice for Call Outs too. Such a document would be more complicated. A quick internet trawl shows there is less on which to base it. It should be done. I’m not sure we’ll have the time.

Reasonably Quick Wins

Reasonably Quick Wins are things that can be instituted with a minimum of fuss in Partner Organisations. They are a combination of pragmatic changes and advocacy at the organisational level. Think; tweaks of an organisation’s freelance contracts, options for inclusion in a pension scheme, ways to get freelancers’ voices heard better by the Board (all naturally constrained by the size and budget of the organisation concerned). I am concentrating my one-day-a-week energies elsewhere and am looking forward to hearing what Team Members come up with so that I can feed it back to my partner organisation.

Longer Term Stuff

Longer Term Stuff has taken some considerable discussion. Our plan was inspired by one of our members’ description on the appalling insecurities for those practicing his particular art. One of our number is looking at this and about whether IR35 applies, but we’ve agreed to collaborate on something quite different.

It is hard to synthesize a need across creative freelancing when we are all in such different areas. Different practices have different needs, are protected by existing unions to differing degrees and are comprised of people with different attitudes. While fragmentation of the creative landscape leaves us weak, we feel it is potentially dangerous to leave generalisations unchallenged. Any overly general commitment could be misunderstood and – with the best of intentions – inadequately or inappropriately applied. To mitigate this, and highlight the human stories around lack of rights in the Creative Freelancing industry, we’re starting a ‘Humans of New York’ style series. We’ll include photographs and stories where people speak anonymously about their journeys as freelancers and what they feel could change. We’ll not show the faces of any artists, and by doing this will highlight how freelancers have been made invisible by the pandemic, like a shadow workforce, without access to proper statutory rights enshrined in law. I think this idea – which came from other members of the group – is an awesome combination of pragmacy and advocacy. Our planning has already begun, we’ll get a structure together first and then start work in earnest. I can say with confidence that we are all looking forward to collaborating on this tangible and compelling aspect of our work.

Really Strategic Stuff

Now for the Really Strategic Stuff. To be honest, as a group, we’re still getting there. We have a start. It’s almost pure advocacy. But I don’t think it right to articulate ideas that haven’t been properly pinned down. Instead, here is what informs my personal view and the premise under which I run my own artistic and collaborative practice:

  • There is less and less money available for creative freelancers from traditional sources.
  • Creatives – particularly performers – need to demonstrate actual quantified ROI (Return on Investment) for many non-traditional (commercial and impact-oriented) sources.
  • This ROI can then be used by artists to make their case and could be used to develop individual and collaborative solutions.

Pragmacy or advocacy? You decide!

I hope to write more about our group’s progress – and what I’m doing with my wonderful Partner Organisation –  in the future.

Our friends at Fuel Theatre

Here’s the project description

And the announcement from the Mayors’ Office