Happy new year and thank goodness 2021 is over.
It was certainly not the year any of us wanted to have. It doesn't feel as though the cultural sector is remotely close to recovering from the Covid pandemic - as I write, Omicron cases are through the roof and in common with many other people, virtually all my Christmas and New Year plans ended up being cancelled. The Chancellor's pre-Christmas announcement of an additional £30m for the Cultural Recovery Fund through to March 2022 was a welcome bit of good news. We seem to have stopped talking about 'post-Covid' which is something of a relief given that it doesn't look like the 'post' is going to happen any time soon. Living with Covid seems to be a more realistic aspiration and is where a lot of my conversations with cultural sector organisations are heading at the moment.
I can’t remember the last time I was so glad to see the back of an arbitrary unit of time as I have been with 2021 - not since its predecessor at least. It did have its good points but was mostly characterised by upheaval with the end of my long term relationship and the shift to single parenthood. This feels like a lengthy and ongoing adjustment and has had a massive impact on my working life. I’ve been invited to write something about freelancing as a single parent for the Space Invaders network of feminists in museums and heritage, it’s been ticking away at the back of my head for a while now so I'm aiming to get it out and on paper towards the end of next month. 90% of single parents are women which for me makes this very clearly a feminist issue and the findings of the Museum Freelance survey in March 2020 that 83% of freelancers identify as female makes me wonder to what extent caring responsibilities are influencing women's decisions about embarking on freelance careers. I'd love to hear perspectives from anyone who has a view on this or experience they'd like to share - drop me a line here.
I found that consultancy work held up reasonably well in 2021, thanks primarily to the CRF which many organisations used to commission time limited pieces of work. I’ve been fortunate to work with Manchester Art Gallery, Bradford Museums & Galleries, Brooklands Museum and Hull Museums as a result. The challenge I've found with freelance work over the past year has not been its availability – I think that squeeze will happen further down the line when the emergency funding dries up – but in the amount of pressure organisations are under that affects their ability to commission and manage work effectively. Several of my projects that were supposed to complete in Summer or Autumn of 2021 are still stretching on. Flexibility is the watch word for freelancers but I can't remember a year where I've had so many changing deadlines and postponed work. I've written about that in a separate blog post - it's concerning because it impacts directly on the viability of freelance businesses and therefore on individuals' livelihoods. From talking to other freelancers I know I'm not the only one facing this challenge and the need to find strategies for managing it is one of the big influences on my thinking for approaching work in 2022.
I’m not big on New Year resolutions. The endless dark days of January when everything’s cold and grey feel like the worst time to find motivation to make and stick to plans for change - though having said that I've committed to Dry January (I know - ask me in a couple of weeks how that's going) and have embarked on a six-week fitness challenge so if I don't slam into February feeling amazing I shall be quite aggrieved! I have some major deadlines looming in January and February that mean I don’t have a lot of time or head space to think about new projects at least for the next month or so. Instead I’m planning to take some time out in the spring to reflect and set new goals. To prepare for that I’ve signed up for a gentle goal setting workshop with my friend Ruth Singer, an artist who also mentors creatives and freelancers to help them focus on their values and goals. Ruth and I go back longer than either of us cares to admit and my conversations with her are always full of insight and new perspectives so I'm looking forward to that.
Meanwhile I'm just getting my head down and trying to find some focus and motivation. See you in the spring...