The Stage – Opinion – John Studzinski – It’s time for philanthropists to stand up for theatre’s freelancers

On July 13, The Stage published key findings of the Big Freelancers Survey. It highlighted how difficult it is for freelance theatre workers – the lifeblood of the sector – to access emergency income, including from the government’s emergency schemes and the £1.57 billion package released on July 5. The situation is especially tough for freelancers at the beginning of their careers.

July 13 also brought the announcement of the Genesis Foundation’s emergency fund for freelancers. Standing at £100,000, it is dwarfed by the government schemes, but it will make a direct, targeted impact and – I hope – set an example to other philanthropic organisations.

I established the Genesis Foundation 20 years ago. We support directors, playwrights, actors and musicians in the early stages of their professional lives. We do this through funding structured programmes with designated partner organisations, which currently include drama school LAMDA, London theatres the Almeida, National Theatre and Young Vic, and choral group The Sixteen.

We’ve enjoyed their work in the good times. Now it’s up to us to help them get through the bad times

The Genesis Foundation likes to take a long-term view: each year we invest at least £500,000 in artists and in the skills, mentoring and networks that will make their careers sustainable. These are talented, hard-working people who stand to make a multifaceted contribution to society in the course of their careers: not only will their art enhance the quality of all our lives, they will also prove an economic force, generating revenue for the country both directly and indirectly. We all know how much the creative sector means to the UK, both in terms of ‘soft power’ and as a major contributor to the economy. We also know to what extent it is currently under threat.

The emergency fund created by the Genesis Foundation will go at least some way to ensuring the survival of the many freelancers involved in partner-run programmes. This move is driven by compassion – this is a humanitarian crisis and we care about these people – but also by a desire to see a return on investments we have already made.

One of the things that makes the UK’s cultural sector so exceptional is its entrepreneurial spirit, engendered partly by a funding model that relies on the state and private donors. There’s a tradition of ‘finding the money somewhere’ to get a show on stage and that demands considerable creativity.

As the sector – and especially its freelance component – faces an existential crisis, funders need to get creative too. Clearly, there is only so much the government can or will do to increase chances of survival for freelance performers, creatives and technical staff.

Now is the time for philanthropists to assume some new responsibilities and to start channelling money to these people – the ‘key workers’ in the sector. We’ve enjoyed their work in the good times. Now it’s up to us to help them get through the bad times. For our sake as much as theirs, we cannot afford to let the lifeblood of the performing arts run dry.

John Studzinski is founder and chairman of the Genesis Foundation

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