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The arts are a ‘closed shop’ for working class – report

Julie Walters has previously hit out at the lack of accessibility within acting for people from working class backgrounds. Photo: Featureflash/Shutterstock Julie Walters has previously hit out at the lack of accessibility within acting for people from working class backgrounds. Photo: Featureflash/Shutterstock
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A damning survey has labelled the arts a “closed shop” to people from working-class backgrounds.

It found more than three-quarters of those in the performing arts are middle class.

The claim is made in the publication of results of the Panic! survey, which was commissioned in September to shine a light on social mobility in the sector.

It reveals that 77% of those in the performing arts come from middle-class backgrounds, backing claims from high-profile actors including Julie Walters and David Morrissey, who have previously argued that the sector is not accessible to people from working-class backgrounds.

Create, which organised the survey, said the results paint “a bleak picture” of the arts and that young people whose parents cannot afford to support them will have a tougher time breaking in.

Middle-class backgrounds were defined by the survey as people who had at least one parent working in a managerial or professional job when they were 14 years old.

The survey also highlights a “stark and worrying difference” between black, Asian and ethnic minority workers and white workers in how important they believed ethnicity to be in order to progress within the arts.

Among BAME arts employees, 15% felt ethnicity is essential to getting ahead, while 29% felt it is very important. This compares with 2% of white employees stating ethnicity is essential, and 10% thinking it is very important.

In addition, nine out of 10 arts workers said that knowing the right people is “fairly important, very important or essential” to getting ahead in the industry.

The survey – compiled by Goldsmiths university and published by the Guardian – shows low-paid work in the performing arts is significantly more frequent than in the arts as a whole, which includes advertising and marketing.

Nearly 30% of people working in the performing arts earn less than £10,000 per year and 41% earn less than £15,000, while in the arts overall these percentages were 23% and 33% respectively.

The rate of pay in the performing arts compares unfavourably with the national minimum wage which, for someone working 35 hours per week, is roughly £12,000 a year.

Nine in 10 performing arts employees (93%) have worked for free at some point, while nearly a third of all arts employees have done an unpaid internship.

Arts workers in London were found to be more likely to have worked for free than those in other regions, and were more likely to have parents with a degree.

The data from the survey also highlighted a gender pay gap in the performing arts, among those who cited it as their main job. According to data from the 751 respondents from the sector, men are paid a mean salary of £25,000, while women earn £5,000 less on average. In the arts as a whole, women are also markedly more likely to have done unpaid internships than men.

More than 2,500 arts workers responded to the survey. People working in the performing arts had the greatest representation of all sectors, with 30% of respondents working in performance and music.

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