Survey Shows Extent of Class Divide in Creative Industries

A new report suggests that women, people from working-class backgrounds and BAME workers all face significant exclusion

Whom are the arts really for? This is just one of the pressing questions to be asked with fresh urgency thanks to the publication today of a new report that suggests the creative industries in the UK might benefit from a long, hard look in the mirror. 

As its title suggests, Panic! issues an urgent warning to those working in the UK’s cultural professions. Subtitled ‘Social Class, Taste and Inequalities in the Creative Industries’, the report is billed as ‘the first sociological study on social mobility in the cultural industries.’ It paints a picture of an exclusive industry whose workforce is unrepresentative of the wider population – socially, politically, and demographically. ‘If you think the creative industries should speak for a nation or a community then this report raises big questions,’ says Dr David O’Brien, one of its three lead authors. Nonetheless, those involved are hopeful that their work will lead to overdue systemic change. 


Brook, O’Brien and Taylor, Panic! Social Class, Taste and Inequalities in the Creative Industries, 2018

Panic! is the result of a partnership between Edinburgh College of Art, the University of Sheffield, and Create – an east London-based commissioning agency that encourages collaborations between artists and urban communities. The report is based on a survey of 2,487 culture professionals that was commissioned by Create in 2015. In addition, the report’s lead authors – Dr Orian Brook, Dr David O’Brien, and Dr Mark Taylor – have analyzed longer-term data from the British Social Attitudes Survey, the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS), and the Office for National Statistics. Despite the quantity of data analyzed, the report does not claim to be a comprehensive overview, but a vital snapshot.

What emerges is an account of ‘a “creative class” quite distinct from the rest of society.’The report strongly suggests that meritocracy is a myth. Women, people from working-class backgrounds, and Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) workers all face significant exclusions from an industry which is over-represented by upper middle-class white men. Just 2.7% of workers in museums, galleries and libraries are of BAME backgrounds (compared to nearly 10% of the UK workforce overall) while just 12.6% of workers in publishing are of working-class origins (compared to 35% of the workforce overall).


Brook, O’Brien and Taylor, Panic! Social Class, Taste and Inequalities in the Creative Industries, 2018

Although differences emerge within the sector, the overall picture is of a homogenous workforce whose social networks are largely limited to other culture professionals and whose values are markedly different to those of any other occupation. Cultural workers are ‘the most liberal, most pro-welfare and most left wing of any industry.’ These same descriptions apply both to makers of culture and consumers: culturalworkers attend four times as many cultural activities as people in working-class occupations. ‘Many in the sector really do have a distorted picture of just how unlikely it is for a working-class person to visit their institution,’ says Dr O’Brien. ‘Basically, you have a set of people who look very much like the audience that they are serving. We could consider the cultural sector a closed segment of society.’


Brook, O’Brien and Taylor, Panic! Social Class, Taste and Inequalities in the Creative Industries, 2018

Unfortunately, those in the best position to change the system are often unable to see the problem. Those at the top are most likely to think they got there simply through talent and hard work.‘Workforce inequalities are reinforced by the prevalence of unpaid labour,’ argue the report’s authors. Yet unpaid internships are on the rise (48% of people under 30 reported they had done an unpaid internship, compared to just 6% of respondents over 50) and working for free is described in the report as ‘endemic’.

What is perhaps especially surprising is that the current situation is not new. Although the report shows that there are more upper middle-class people working in the creative sector today than in 1981, Panic! apportions this to a result of wider changes to Britain’s class structure: there are simply more upper middle-class people overall.1 The chancesof a working-class person gaining a job in the arts are as low as ever. ‘It seems that there has never been a time when the arts reflected British society in an equitable way,’ says Hadrian Garrard, director of Create.


Brook, O’Brien and Taylor, Panic! Social Class, Taste and Inequalities in the Creative Industries, 2018

Although, at times, Panic! makes for grim reading, those responsible believe it can act as a catalyst for systemic changes. If the anger behind the recent gender pay gap reports is anything to go by, then the desire for large-scale changes to workplace practices is widespread. Certainly, the data presented in Panic! may well prove persuasive to those in positions of authority (the successful white men in thrall to the myth of meritocracy). Then, it is hoped that better, evidence-based decision-making will follow across the sector.

To this end, alongside the report is an accompanying cultural programme, including an event at the Barbican on 27 June and newly commissioned work by artist-activist Ellie Harrison. Looking close to home, Garrard says that Create has already begun to change its own recruitment policies on the back of the research. The emphasis is now on capabilities and potential more than experience and qualifications. ‘We're hopeful that Panic! could contribute towards a shift in thinking and practice,’ says Garrard. ‘For this to happen, it's important that we acknowledge the privilege in our own organizations and recognise that the arts are not, as things stand, representative of the population as a whole.’

1 Brook, O’Brien and Taylor, Panic! Social Class, Taste and Inequalities in the Creative Industries, 2018, p. 18

Main image: Brook, O’Brien and Taylor, Panic! Social Class, Taste and Inequalities in the Creative Industries, 2018

Tom Jeffreys is a writer based in Edinburgh, Scotland. His first book, Signal Failure: London to Birmingham, HS2 on Foot, was published by Influx Press in April 2017.

Most Read

Royal bodies, the ‘incel’ mindset and those Childish Gambino hot-takes: what to read this weekend
In further news: women wearing rainbow badges beaten in Beijing’s 798; gallerists Georg Kargl and Richard Gray have...
‘Coping as a woman in France is a daily battle: the aggression can be subtle, and you always have to push harder to...
The rapper and artist have thoughts about originality in art; Melania Trump tries graphic design – all the latest...
The dilapidated Nissen hut from which Rachel Whiteread will take a cast
Yorkshire residents complain that the concrete sculpture of a ‘Nissen hut’ will attract excrement, vandalism and litter
Poul Erik Tøjner pays tribute to Denmark’s most important artist since Asger Jorn
Toyin Ojih Odutola’s portraits of a fictional aristocratic Nigerian family push toward an expanded definition...
Photographer Dragana Jurisic says her account was deactivated after she uploaded an artwork depicting a partially naked...
In further news: open letter protests all-male shortlist for BelgianArtPrize; Arts Council of Ireland issues...
From Sol Calero’s playful clichés of Latin America to an homage to British modernist architect Alison Smithson
Everybody’s favourite underpaid, over-educated, raven-haired art critic, Rhonda Lieberman, is as relevant as ever
‘Prize & Prejudice’ at London's UCL Art Museum is a bittersweet celebration of female talent
The curators want to rectify the biennale’s ‘failure to question the hetero-normative production of space’; ‘poppers...
A fragment of the brutalist Robin Hood Gardens will go on show at the Venice Architecture Biennale
‘Women's role in shaping the history of contemporary art is being reappraised’
Three shows in Ireland celebrate the legendary polymath, artist and author of Inside the White Cube
The legendary performance artists will partner up again to detail their tumultuous relationship in a new book
An open letter signed by over 100 leading artists including 15 Turner prize-winners says that new UK education policy...
Naturists triumph at art gallery; soothing students with colouring books; Kanye’s architectural firm: your dose of art...
Avengers: Infinity War confirms the domination of mass culture by the franchise: what ever happened to narrative...
The agency’s founder talks about warfare in the age of post truth, deconstructing images and holding states and...
From hobnobbing with Oprah to championing new art centres, millennial crown prince Mohammed bin Salman is following a...
A juror for the award last year, Dan Fox on why the Turner Prize is and always will be political (whatever that means)
The argument that ancestral connection offers a natural grasp of the complex histories and aesthetics of African art is...
One of most iconic and controversial writers of the past 40 years, Tom Wolfe discusses writing, art and intellectual...

Latest Magazines

frieze magazine

March 2018

frieze magazine

April 2018

frieze magazine

May 2018