Rachael Young was our sponsored freelancer on the Freelance Taskforce this year. We asked her to share some reflections on the experience, and what she’s taking forward from it.
These are her words:
I was super excited about starting with the Freelance Taskforce although I was a little bit nervous because I didn’t know what would be in store for us. It was a chance to start doing some organising and that’s not something I’ve done before. At the time I felt quite strongly that the voices in the taskforce should be as diverse as possible and it was an opportunity to have my say. Early on, I remember being in the first meeting and more & more people were being added to the Zoom call and that was becoming more & more overwhelming. It was early on in lockdown & I don’t like Zoom calls at the best of times, or big groups of people as I find that intimidating. I found that in those larger groups there were teething problems in terms of sorting out access, but I always find in those types of larger groups the same sorts of people are always the ones speaking up and other voices get lost. It felt like this from the onset and I didn’t really know how to engage with it. Groups quickly formed in terms of what people wanted to focus on but I felt that a lot of those people in the groups were people that would start to take over and don’t leave space for anybody else and I wasn’t sure that those were the things that I wanted to be speaking about. So I spoke to another artist about how I was feeling within the groups and they were feeling the same way so we chose to start working together.
Vijay & I started to have conversations about the group and access and how the same people were talking, and I suppose it made us think about the fact that we are both neurodivergent artists, and how that affects our work and effects us within this industry that is very fast paced and doesn’t really leave space for other types of working. It felt like at this point, when everything had slowed down, that maybe this was an opportunity to highlight some of those difficulties faced by the neurodivergent workforce with the arts. We set about getting in contact with neurodivergent artists and we wanted to find out their experiences of working in organisations & venues and being freelancers and where people had given them the space or resources they needed, so who was doing things well and who was doing things not so well.
You never know when you start something how many people would want to be involved but the response was really great. We found that lots of people wanted to talk about this and wanted things to improve. We collated all our answers and put together what we hoped would be an open letter but it is more like a set of standards or charter that we’re hoping that organisations will sign up to. So far a lot of organisations have signed up to the charter to say that they committed to improving the working conditions of neurodivergent artists. That could be in ways like providing a separate chill out space or thinking about their recruitment processes.
My hopes would be that people feel seen – there’s a community of artists that feel that their disability maybe isn’t taken seriously but at least now I hope that they feel seen and that they can have a voice. I hope that venues & organisations can come away from these normative ways of doing things and let access policies be the norm rather than an afterthought.
I was surprised in the beginning that these spaces turned into the same thing of dominance. I learnt it was difficult for a large group of people to work together and come to any consensus. Organising is hard, particularly when working within a horizontal structure that doesn’t feel hierarchical, it’s difficult and takes some work to get right. But I also learnt that if you are given the time and the space and cash to pay yourself that you can actually achieve something that’s heading towards change. It also highlighted to me everything that is wrong in this sector and that wasn’t so great to see. I think there is definitely willingness from the freelancers and I hope, arts organisations to try to change. I think it does need to be about a restart, the structures don’t work and I think without thinking about how you can start again you’re just sticking a plaster on it and eventually the scab is going to fall off and it’s going to be the same thing all over again. But what I also feel is that the power is all wrong and so how can organisations support artists and freelancers to have a voice and where is the accountability? There needs to be a way of holding organisations accountable, not just through the Arts Council, if they say they’re delivering on certain outcomes but they are not, why not? I think there needs to be more visibility, openness and they need to be called out more but artists & freelancers would fear doing that as they might lose work.
My takeaway would be that if something is wrong, it’s important to call people out and say ‘we see what you’re doing and it’s not OK.’ Sometimes these problems need a creative solution and the task force provided that but there is still such a long way to go.
Rachael Young is an award-winning artist and writer based between London and Nottingham. Her interdisciplinary performance practice exists on the boundaries between live art, dance, contemporary theatre and socially engaged projects. Her work creates spaces for intersectional realities to be explored and celebrated and for alternative narratives and forms to evolve and be heard.
Rachael’s most recent shows OUT and NIGHTCLUBBING have received critical acclaim. NIGHTCLUBBING was nominated for the ‘Total Theatre Award for Innovation, Experimentation & Playing with Form’ at 2019’s Edinburgh Fringe Festival and Rachael was named an Artist to Watch 2019 by the British Council. OUT won the 2017 South East Dance ‘A Space to Dance’ Brighton Fringe Award and was nominated for the ‘Total Theatre & The Place Award for Dance’ at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe 2017. She is the recipient of the inaugural Eclipse Award, which supported this year’s run of NIGHTCLUBBING and OUT at Edinburgh Fringe.
She was part of 2018/19 ‘BBC Writers Room: London Voices’ and a writer of the Royal Court’s Queer Upstairs: an evening of rehearsed readings of new short plays to mark the fiftieth anniversary of the Stonewall uprising.
Rachael’s work is shown in the UK and internationally, with recent performances at: Skopje Pride (Skopje), Live Collision Festival (Dublin), RIGHTABOUTNOW (Amsterdam), Theatre de L’Usine (Geneva), TRANSFORM! #3 (Marseille), ImPulsTanz (Vienna International Dance Festival), The Place, IBT, The Yard Theatre, Tate Modern, Contact, mac, Curve, BAC, Buzzcut, New Art Exchange, Derby Theatre, Quarterhouse and The Marlborough Theatre.
Rachael also works as a lecturer, mentor and outside eye for other artists. You can follow Rachael on Twitter @Rachaelraymck