Precarity and Resilience for Freelance Community Artists

Artist: Matt Jennings

In this session, Matt Jennings will run a resilience workshop, inviting practitioners to share their perspectives on their working conditions, their role as artists, and the measures they take to preserve their wellbeing and survival in an increasingly precarious environment. Research shows that participation in community arts programmes can support the psychological wellbeing and financial resilience of participants and community groups. But what about the artists themselves?


Matt will start with a presentation about the issues faced by artists working in communities in Northern Ireland and Scotland. We will discuss the hardships and opportunities that these artists have encountered, as well as the personal, professional and artistic measures that they have taken to support their survival and artistic integrity. Such measures include cultural workers’ groups who pool resources and take collective action. We may discuss these in relation to international examples of artists’ collectives, who perform collective identity as an act of resistance to precarity (such as the Precarias de Derivo in Spain, Fora de Eixo in Brazil, or the Precarious Workers’ Brigade in the UK).


We will also explore the possibilities of lobbying policy makers to introduce or preserve measures that provide direct funding to freelance artists, such as: the ‘intermittents du spectacle’ in France; ‘community cultural development workers’ in Australia; and the Universal Basic Income model, currently being tested with specific communities inScotland, Canada, Netherlands, Finland and India.One attraction of these policy approaches is that they may not only produce more financial and personal stability for arts workers, but also can reduce the costs to the state of arts subsidy and welfare distribution.  We will discuss the possibilities of artists supporting themselves or finding the means of subsistence to allow them to focus on arts activities. We will also explore the steps that people take to preserve their own psychological and physical health, in managing the stress of precarious working conditions.


Anything we discuss can be a stimulus for further discussion and sharing of practices and ideas. This might include sharing exercises in healthy eating, mindfulness yoga or martial arts, which many artists in Scotland and Northern Ireland rely on to help them cope. But we will also try to reflect critically on the idea that individual artists must take sole responsibility for their personal wellbeing. We all need to look after ourselves – and each other. The state has a key role to play in this.


This workshop would suit anyone who has experience of freelance work (as an artist or in another role), or who has worked with freelance artists, or who has an interest in the arts and cultural policy.


Dr. Matt Jennings is Lecturer in Drama in the School of Creative Arts & Technologies at Ulster University. Originally from Sydney, he has worked as an actor, musician, writer, director and arts facilitator in Australia, Ireland, the UK, Italy, Morocco and France. Matt first visited Ireland in 1997 and has been based in Northern Ireland since 2001, where he has worked extensively in both professional performance and the field of applied drama. His experience of working with community groups, children, young people, older people, people with learning disabilities, and people with mental health issues has informed his research, practice and teaching. In 2010, Matt completed a PhD on the function and impact of community drama in Northern Ireland since the Good Friday Agreement and has published a number of articles on this and related subjects.

Thursday 30 March 10.00