The devaluation of the artist

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Much has been written about artists’ precarity and dependency on institutions. Precarity is a de-economisation of freelance artists and ‘asymmetry’ on which cultural economy and arts policy relies. Speculation early in 2020 was that COVID-19 drew attention to the unethicality of these relationships but what has changed? Here, pre-pandemic and rapid response research on UK freelance theatre artists are brought together to suggest that the #CultureReset has been little more than a resetting of the stage with all props and players returning to previous positions.
Pre-pandemic, the separation of artists from the language, policymaking, business and decision-making of professional subsidised theatre represented an unethical rationality. COVID-19 interrupted and transformed all cultural activity with a disproportionate impact on freelance artists, particularly in performing arts. Yet during 2020 and 2021, previous value systems (the rationality of the field) were maintained. Early hopes for improved conditions diminish as institutions and governments restore previous behaviours, counter to the ‘new normal’ advocated. A global crisis could not change the ‘value problem’ of artists in the arts. Moreover, pity procured for artists during the pandemic has further infantilised and devalued them. These findings call for greater scrutiny of the ethics of arts management and policy and new more collaborative approaches to solving the ‘value problem’.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)59-88
JournalJournal of Cultural Management and Cultural Policy
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 07 Dec 2022


  • Artists in policy
  • Covid 19
  • cultural value
  • cultural recovery
  • ethics


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