In a special supplement titled ‘How the arts can survive the coronavirus crisis’, Nick Awde speaks to Penny Babakhani who is donating all her salary to her freelance colleagues
Workers in the performing arts have been hit hard in the Covid-19 crisis, excluded as many are from government employee aid deals or Arts Council England’s support for national portfolio organisations, with many not covered by the measures for self-employed workers.
It’s not surprising there has been a wave of inspiring acts of philanthropy, helping to redistribute money to help theatre workers who have lost work and income.
Individual actions can have a deeper impact on society when joined together, says Penny Babakhani, who is a full-time administrator at Selladoor Worldwide and an independent producer. Her recent production of Peyvand Sadeghian’s Dual at London’s Vault Festival was named Vault Festival Show of the Week.
On March 22, Babakhani posted the following six-part Twitter thread aimed at fellow salaried arts workers: “My next paycheck is due to land on Friday and – because I can afford to – I’m donating all of it. Who here can I inspire to pledge £100 from their payday?
"Handing over my pay cheque seems like the most direct way to help"
“I understand how, with all the uncertainty, you’d want to save for a rainy day. But if there was ever a time to show solidarity, this is it. If you’re a salaried arts worker due to receive a paycheck, I’d encourage you to (publicly, if you feel comfortable doing so) pledge to donate at least £100 of it to help protect the livelihood of our freelance colleagues.”
Babakhani is splitting her pay 50/50 between regional crowdfund campaigns and Bryony Kimmings’ #GigAid scheme, which is matching individual donors to artists, but she’s aware the idea may not be for everyone.
“I have moved temporarily back in with my family,” she says. “They feed me and there is nothing to do. I’m also a climate activist, so I’d already started to cut back on buying things.
“I looked at my bank account and realised my outgoings are close to zero. I am one of the privileged people in our industry because only a small percentage are salaried.”
She also believes the performing arts wouldn’t exist without freelance workers and those on casual contracts. “If they are forced to leave, it’s going to wipe out the industry. Handing over my pay cheque seems like the most direct way to help in the immediate case, because what people need more than anything is money to pay their rent.
“If you are a salaried worker in the arts, and you’re lucky to be furloughed, you start thinking: ‘How much of my salary do I need at the moment?’ I’d wager there are a lot more people like me who are able to admit it.”
For more information follow Babakhani on Twitter @PennyBabakhani
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