Associate Professor in Art Sociology,
Dr. Sara Strandvad
, is conducting research on the position of freelancers in the cultural sector in the Northern Netherlands. How do they navigate the numerous challenges faced by independent entrepreneurs in the cultural sector, and what is their outlook for the future? The research is a collaboration with, among others, the municipality of Groningen. The municipality will consider the recommendations from the research in formulating its new Cultural Policy.
The idea for Strandvad's research came during the COVID-19 pandemic. During the lockdown, the doors of theaters and performance venues remained closed. Audiences were forced to stay home and seek entertainment online. While some turned to traditional DVDs, most turned to online platforms like Nintendo and Netflix, which enjoyed unprecedented profits. Meanwhile, work for freelancers in the cultural sector ground to a halt.
"The performing arts were particularly hit hard during the shutdown," says Sara Strandvad. "They remained vulnerable to the government's ever-changing policies. As a result, some creative freelancers shifted to work in other sectors during the pandemic. Some even changed their entire career path and stopped working in the cultural sector or closed down their own businesses".
Initially, the research aimed to answer the question of how freelance cultural entrepreneurs could recover after the pandemic. But setting up research, finding collaborators, and securing financial support takes time. Strandvad began her research this fall, and from early conversations with creative entrepreneurs, it became clear that there are now more challenges than just the aftermath of the pandemic. "The energy crisis, inflation, the struggle for fair compensation for their services: so much is happening, and the pandemic seems to have faded into the background."
Nevertheless, the pandemic is still part of Strandvad's research. "This period has brought a lot of uncertainty and highlighted issues that were there before but didn't get much attention. For example, building enough savings to fall back on when times get tough. For freelancers in the creative sector, it has always been very challenging. This relates to the issue of fair compensation, which is now being widely discussed. Those who survived the pandemic and continued to work in the sector are still in a vulnerable position, and after those uncertain years with little work and insufficient income, they find themselves in a difficult situation again with high energy bills and price increases for which they are not compensated."
Freelancers have not received much sympathy from politicians for their difficult situation. At the beginning of the pandemic, former Minister for the Economy and Climate Wiebes said: "It will mean a drop in income for many freelancers. They have chosen this themselves," and "Freelancers themselves have said that they do not want a permanent employment contract. These people have consciously taken that risk.”
Strandvad adds, "The fact that freelancers have chosen to be self-employed is often used as a justification for injustice. In discussions about fair pay, reasonable working hours, maternity leave - these are all issues that are well regulated for employees, but not at all for freelancers.”
With her research, Strandvad wants to map the position of cultural freelancers in the North of the Netherlands. "How do they deal with the many challenges they face during and after the pandemic? What are their prospects for the future? What support do they need to do their work in a healthy and sustainable way? These are the questions I want to answer with this research."
Strandvad is working with various parties. "I want to hear the experiences of the freelancers themselves. I am very happy to work with professional freelance organizations on this." The municipality of Groningen is also involved in the research. "The municipality wants to better support this group of entrepreneurs. This knowledge is essential. In addition, the municipality will use the recommendations from our research when writing the new cultural policy," says Strandvad.
The research 'Surviving the pandemic: Challenges in the labor market of the performing arts sector in Groningen in the aftermath of the pandemic' is funded by the Control Agency SIA with the KIEM scheme, which aims to stimulate new collaborations between SMEs, the public sector, and universities or colleges. The municipality of Groningen also contributes to the funding of the research. Strandvad collaborates in her research with the municipality of Groningen, the knowledge platform Cultuur+Ondernemen, and with Mooiedingenmakers, the creative network of the North. The research started this fall and will last one year. Researcher Nora Leidinger and two research master students of cultural leadership, Eva Broekmann and Dylan Crossman, are carrying out the research.
Sara Strandvad is also looking for new freelancers for her research. Are you or have you been a freelancer in the cultural sector in the North of the Netherlands and would you like to participate in the research? Then please send an e-mail to s.m.strandvad rug.nl.
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