Sometimes creating ain't gonna to cut it.
Updated: Mar 24, 2020
I am part of two groups; I am a musician/creative. I am also a teaching assistant at a school through an agency (a gig worker). During the COVID-19 crisis in the UK, I have to keep working to keep a steady(ish) income before things start to get really bad.
This past week or two has been anxiety-inducing for the whole world due to COVID-19 and it’s understandable why people are trying to find ways in which to comfort themselves. We’ve all had to challenge the way in which we work and collectively, we somewhat know that things are never going to return to normal.
However, there are two distinctive responses I’m seeing online. Those who have zero hour contracts, who are gig workers, who are usually working class (but not restricted to) - we are all panicking.
I am also seeing other people take to social media a lot more. I am seeing an influx of lovely messages promoting kindness and solidarity, quirky IG lives which I have found entertaining….and some Corona inspired Soundcloud links which I personally find insensitive and out of touch (people are scared and dying, please stop).
But the overall narrative I am seeing being targeted at creatives in particular is that this is a ‘primetime’ to start creating. Due to all the “free-time” that we have now, this is the time for us to start ‘working’ on our branding and making sure we have a constant flow of content.
And I fully disagree with this particular sentiment. Not only because we shouldn’t always be striving to monetise a situation - that is going to result in a lot of deaths and change society’s infrastructure - but because there are creatives who are going to want to try and use this time to create but can’t. And that’s okay.
1. This may actually be a time to start panicking.
Freelancers, zero hour contract workers and gig workers have been completely disregarded by the government. Thousands of people have been let go and left without a lifeline or clear instruction as to how they’re going to survive this pandemic. During this time, they are most likely thinking about looking for a way of making income in the next few weeks or are still reeling from just being suddenly let go, which especially as a freelancer, is still a horrible feeling.
You could be like me who is technically classified as a key worker but not contracted through a company. Which means that my employment status is hanging by a thread. If I don’t show up, I don’t get paid, regardless of my own anxiety about going outside. And there is very little support of which I can access when things get really bad so the aim is to try and accumulate as much income to keep things momentarily stable for the time being.
At this time, some people may be looking to have some downtime. Some time to reflect on the heaviness of the situation around them. Some may be practising self care or are trying to escape everything altogether. (I would recommend regardless of your financial status as this is partially what is going to get us through - find small bouts of joy).
This is different to those creatives who’s number one concern isn’t income. When you’re not worrying about your next paycheque or your living conditions then maybe you have the time to think about your next big project. Time is currency and some people would rather spend it on their physical, emotional and financial well-being as of right now.
2. Creative with precarious jobs have less stability anyway.
On a day to day basis, working class creatives or those with precarious jobs usually have a part/full time job to be able to fund their craft. Now we are being met with jobs suddenly terminating contracts which then leads to the worry of paying for rent or unstable living conditions as a whole. Some people I know have had to move back home to their family which may not be the most safest or most viable of options either. The price of essentials are also rising rapidly due to the current COVID-19 outbreak, therefore working class creatives will have to make a tough decision in what they can prioritise in terms of survival.
With all this instability occurring and no outlook of it improving anytime soon, one’s mental health may begin to suffer. There’s not much escape within the news media at the moment which is understandable. But to be constantly reminded how institutions and governments are choosing not to protect and serve their most marginalised can lead to an increase of mental illness with working class creatives.
With all this constant scrabbling to find a semblance of stability music may bring comfort to us. But art is not best made when the creator's mind is not in a stable place (the tortured artist trope is a myth folks, sorry to break it to you). It’s unfair that people are trying to place added pressure onto creatives to force themselves to work as now they have more “free-time”. It’s a privilege to have a mental and emotional stable mind to create art because you're bored, so if you’re not in that place right now, it’s okay.
(That being said, I would also like to add that a lot of creatives are being advised to apply for Universal Credit and I personally would advise AGAINST it. The UC system is very harsh for one, with the influx of people estimated to try and apply means that there is less of a chance for people to be accepted. And one must claim that they don’t have any savings or any chance of suspected income in the forthcoming weeks which becomes a problem if you’re a freelancer and you’re putting away savings for tax. If you decide to apply, please be aware of all of the different aspects of it all).
3. And even if we do decide to create, the industry does not cater to the poor.
Eventually we are all going to be inside, whether we are in lockdown or not (which is looking imminent, even if poorly timed). And in this time, maybe, people are going to have more time on their hands and are looking for a way to escape. But unfortunately the industry still isn’t going to be as forgiving to those who don’t have secure jobs, regardless of what is going on in society right now.
Part of being a creative nowadays is being a ‘brand’. It consists of constantly uploading aesthetically pleasing content that garners the most likes and the attention from companies and possible collaborators.This unfortunately costs money to afford high quality pictures and high quality products overall. And with everyone counting their pennies right now in this pandemic, that leaves out a group of creatives who do not have the equipment to create and maintain their personal “brand”. Of course there are ways around this, but this takes time and patience.
Going to a music university, I experienced this firsthand. This attitude towards making art has always bothered me because a lot of people view it through a capitalist lense. Rather than be concerned that I was a working class student and going through a sexual assault case and my mental health was deteriorating rapidly, they were more concerned about my productivity. I didn’t get one email from a tutor asking if I was okay. Unfortunately, institutions don’t wait for you.
Thankfully, the world consists of some beautiful people. I’ve seen posts from creatives who are more financially stable offering free tuition online via Zoom. I’m seeing people offer financial support for those who are in dire straits right now and need the money. I’m seeing people send each other voice notes through Whatsapp with words of encouragement and support. In times like these, it’s important to focus on the people. The only way we can survive things like this is through community, not through capitalism.
And a final reminder that if you are like me, and your last thought is about your next project, you are still a valid creative. You are still valid regardless of how much content you make available for everyone to see. It is okay that you want to take a break and digest what is happening. We’re entering a new normal and you should focus on your wellbeing.