Creatives are moving: Where are they going and why?
70 per cent of our survey respondents believe it will no longer be necessary for creatives to live in major cities in the future – but for some the move has already begun.
Over two years since most offices instructed their employees to work from home – for just a few weeks, we presumed at the time – most of us are still working atop a kitchen-table-turned-desk.
Unsurprisingly in our Balancing Act survey, 83 per cent of respondents had worked remotely since March of 2020. It’s only natural then that the same individuals would reconsider their living arrangements. In turn, 37 per cent of respondents had moved since March 2020, noting key reasons as wanting more space (33 per cent), no longer having to live in the city (17 per cent) or due to financial constraints (14 per cent). It’s a trend likely to only continue, with 70 per cent of our respondents believing it will no longer be necessary for creatives to live in major cities in future.
If in fact this is our future, we wanted to hear from an individual who moved out of their pre-pandemic home city, so we invited multidisciplinary designer and director Akhila Krishnan to share her reasons for doing so and how she is settling into her new home a year later.
I moved out of London to the seaside town of Hastings in November 2020, just as the second lockdown came into place. Almost a year and a half later I’m still here – in my gorgeous flat with a view of the sea and absolutely no regrets.
A part of me is still surprised at the speed with which I made this decision. All in all, it only took around two months from the seed of the idea being planted to the actual move itself, during which I lived at a friends’ house to test if I would be happy swapping the only UK city I’ve known with this sleepy, but buzzy seaside town. But I’m jumping ahead a bit.
I think it’s important to frame this piece by saying that I am an immigrant to the UK. I moved here in 2009 to complete an MA and stayed to work in the creative industries; primarily in a field called projection design for live experience, which is quite a small and niche industry. Largely it involves working with moving image and new technology across theatre, opera, installations, exhibitions, projection mapping, and fields like AR/VR. London and New York are two big hubs for this kind of work.
I grew up in India, in big metropolises like Delhi and Mumbai, and in what we call “Tier 2”’ cities like Ahmedabad and Secunderabad, which have populations in the low millions. I never thought that I would end up living in a small town like Hastings – at all. But my closest friends in the UK had moved here (from London) in 2016, and I’d travelled down to the coast to see them a few times a year. I’d always loved it; being able to walk almost everywhere, the Old Town and New Town, the independent businesses, being able to do yoga on the pier surrounded by the sea and the sky, and of course, how beautiful it was.
My friends always said that they would love to have me closer, but as a woman of colour, I was nervous about leaving the diversity of London for a smaller English town. In my more paranoid moments, I worried about being the only person, or one of the few people in the town, who looked like me. I also wondered if “living” here would prove different to “visiting”’ for a few days at a time. And work was a huge concern, of course.
I had swapped my full time job for life as a freelancer in late 2018 and thought leaving London would not only lose me work but access to work as well. Surely the clients and organisations I worked with would prefer to work with someone local, versus paying for someone to travel into the city regularly for meetings and technical rehearsals?
But the pandemic changed all of that, especially for my industry. It has normalised the option of attending meetings and rehearsals remotely via Zoom. It has also given freelancers leverage to ask clients and venues to pay for travel and accommodation if they want a particular creative talent on a show. This does not mean that they will always agree, but in my field, it’s definitely removed the stigma and judgement around not being able to be always present in person through the creative process of making live work. It’s been nothing short of revolutionary.
Working in live events may sound exciting, but it’s definitely at the artistic end of the creative industries (versus the design or corporate end). As such, it’s not incredibly well paid. I work very long hours (sometimes 70 hours or more during a technical rehearsal week) in high pressure situations and I’m not really paid overtime to do that. My other friends in allied design industries are frankly surprised and a bit horrified by my working hours.
I’m well over a decade into my career, very successful and in demand in my practice. I was lucky to be working through the pandemic, but living in London was slowly becoming unsustainable for me. The possibility of ever buying a home in the city (especially on my own) seemed more and more unattainable – even if I killed myself working. As an immigrant, I had tied a lot of my self worth into this idea of finding a small place to call my own in this big city. Letting go of this was one of the hardest, yet one of the most freeing things I have ever done.
In the end, I had to accept several hard truths. I could not keep doing the job I loved on my terms whilst hoping to own a home in London. All of these things could not simultaneously square up. So I had to make some choices about what was most important and practically achievable, in both the short and the long term.
I travel a lot for work and I wanted a home that was a base. One I could afford to rent on my own, that was close to friends and an international airport (to be able to visit my family). I wanted the option to slow down, to live more locally when I was home, to get to know my neighbours. I wanted to not worry about money and work, to only take on the jobs that I wanted whilst being able to save.
In London, I had to take on work to live, but in Hastings I could choose to work to an extent and I realised that choice was very powerful. This town offered me a lifestyle that fit better with the way I wanted to work and live, alongside a vibrant community of other creative people like me, running their own businesses or pursuing their creative practices.
I still travel to London regularly for work. As I write this piece, I’ve been here for almost three weeks on back-to-back prestigious projects and over the next few months, I will travel to Glasgow, Lewes and San Diego. I’m not worried about paying my rent or looking for a sublet whilst I am away. My friends will come around to water my plants and check up on my flat, and all my lovely things can remain in place (or not in place) waiting for my return.
If you’re reading this and deliberating the same move, here are some things to consider:
- We’re entering a golden age of remote working. Offices as static spaces are things of the past; my office travels in my backpack with me everywhere I go. Try and take advantage of this shift.
- The point of a creative career isn’t simply to make creative work, it’s to find ways to make that process and that lifestyle work for you. Reducing the stress of paying a certain amount for rent allows you to take risks in other areas of your life (if not with anything else, with the saved money and time you have as a result.)
- If you’re working as hard as you possibly can and you find very little has changed in your life (whether that be in terms of the type of work you are doing, the savings you have, the time you have outside of work to do other things) then chances are that you’ve been running into the same corner for sometime now. Pivot a bit, to allow a new path to open up in front of you.
- Failing is being stuck. Succeeding is moving on and finding ways to grow into the life you want to lead.
- Sidestepping away from the rat race of living a life in the big city is a bit like sea swimming. Once the initial shock wears off, you’ll never feel more alive.
The Balancing Act
The Balancing Act is an Extra Nice-supported editorial series by It’s Nice That investigating how our industry has altered since the first wave of Covid-19 in early 2020. Developed from a survey shared with our readers, the resulting pieces are a reflection of the way the creative industry was feeling two years later.
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About the Author
Akhila Krishnan is a multi disciplinary designer and director working across the fields of communication design – in live experience & immersive technologies, graphic narrative, moving image for screen, fine art and collaborative practice.