Working Class Creatives Database is disrupting an inaccessible, London-centric industry
Whether infiltrating academic spaces or supporting alienated students, the platform is bolstering working class voices. Its founder and creative director tell us more.
- Liz Gorny
- 28 June 2022
ALT HL: Working Class Creatives Database is disrupting gatekeeping, inaccessibility and a London-centric industry
A New Angle is an editorial series that aims to give a platform to creative industry changemakers who make it their mission to disrupt the status quo. In each edition, we’ll chat to a person or team doing important work in the sector, making it a fairer place, championing vital causes, supporting underrepresented groups and tackling pertinent issues facing creatives everywhere.
This week, we chat to founder Seren Metcalfe and creative director Chanelle Love about the Working Class Creatives Database – tackling the absence of working class voices in the creative industry. Founded as a result of Seren’s experiences studying art in London, and realising the lack of working class people in the field, today the platform serves as a database, community, alternative gallery and resource pool for those who have experienced similar alienation. Aiming to widen the industry beyond the borders of London, and increase accessibility while considering how identity intersects with class, Seren and Chanelle tell us about the many ways the database has and continues to infiltrate a restrictive world.
It’s Nice That:What about the creative industry are you aiming to change and why does it need changing?
Seren Metcalfe: Before I started university, I thought anyone could be an artist or a creative; it seemed like an accessible career. It wasn’t till I moved to London to study that I realised the lack of working class people in not only the professional arts but also within universities and art schools. The majority of students had come from wealthy backgrounds, were privately educated, and had parents with connections already in the arts, leaving working class students and creatives feeling alienated and at a disadvantage, especially when leaving these institutions.
In 2020, During my final year of university, I saw a rise in working class voices on Instagram. The majority were art students who had come from up North or from small towns and cities outside of London and were all having similar experiences.
I founded the database out of a need to build a community of working class creatives who could support each other on their creative journeys and relate over similar backgrounds and experiences – as well as to create a platform to promote our work, share resources, knowledge, and contacts.
Chanelle Love and Seren Metcalfe:As a database we want creative industries to be more accessible to working class people. Creative industries are incredibly London-centric, and there’s a lot of gatekeeping and nepotism. This is something we aim to change, because art should be for everyone, not just those who can afford it. Art is something we look back on as a reference of a period of time, and if only the stories of a select few people are being represented, it can never be a true representation of a time.
It’s important for us to highlight the voices of working class creatives because their work feels a lot more real, personal, relatable, and exciting. It’s important for people to see themselves within the industries they want to work in.
Chanelle Love:We also want to change the current gallery mode and the percentage taken from emerging artist and question why artists are represented by galleries in the first place.
It’s Nice That:What have you built, and how does it tackle these industry issues?
Both: The Working Class Creatives Database aims to facilitate a space that puts working class creatives at the forefront; a space for conversation, connections, and sharing of opportunities, skills, and knowledge.
The database enables creatives who do not have a connection to the established art world network to form a community amongst each other. We form this community by encouraging collaboration through our Whatsapp chat, social events, and group meetings. We recognise that our members come from all walks of life and we encourage skill-sharing across different ages, cultural and educational backgrounds, and regions.
Within the UK, we want the art world to be less London-centric and the voices of working class creatives to be spread far and wide. We also aim to build a community outreach program to make sure we are engaging working class communities across the UK.
We currently support our members by: sharing weekly opportunities, recommendations, and independent courses outside of higher education; hosting workshops, reading groups, and critical feedback sessions for our members; our resources page of reading suggestions and helpful education websites; hosting talks and workshops with universities and galleries, infiltrating academic spaces; organising showcases of working class artists’ work across the UK.
Chanelle Love: We want to build a really open and honest community of creatives who instate their boundaries and respect and support one another for what they can offer and cannot.
Seren Metcalfe: In the future, we want to start representing our members and having more exhibitions throughout the UK.
It’s Nice That:What other organisations are out there like the Working Class Creatives Database, and what sets yours apart?
Seren Metcalfe:There’s a brilliant organisation called Art Emergency that offers mentoring and support to young people in the arts. What it’s doing is amazing and definitely in line with our ethos.
Chanelle Love:Short supply in Machester who help out early-career artists from the North by providing opportunities in the form of exhibitions, advice, and commissions.
It’s hard to compare ourselves to other initiatives or organisations as, at the moment, we don’t have any funding.
It’s Nice That:What are the major challenges you’re facing?
Seren Metcalfe:Our major challenges at the moment are time and money. We stay functioning because we have a team of working class creatives who volunteer their time keeping the database up and running. Most of our time is spent doing admin rather than being able to do what we are really wanting to do – such as making a publication and hosting exhibitions, talks, and in-person events. As it becomes more popular, our workload has become difficult to manage on top of our day jobs and art practices. We have been unlucky with funding so far, but we’re hoping to raise money to have two paid part-time roles. This would allow us to put more time into the database to achieve all of our goals.
Chanelle Love: Lack of funding and balancing our jobs as well as the cost of living rising has been difficult for us. Rising living costs have affected our core members and we have all had to spend a lot less time on the database.
It’s Nice That:What can the creative industry do to support your mission?
Seren Metcalfe: Donations would be the most valuable thing for us at the moment for the database as a whole. In terms of supporting our working class members, you can become a supporter on our website and offer your skills and expertise to our members!
Chanelle Love:Provide a basic living wage if you are an employer and support other grassroots organisations and charities! More support behind socially engaged art and working class artists in general.
It’s Nice That:Talk us through some of your most recent projects or initiatives.
CL and SM: We have been hosting residencies for our Members at SET studios in Woolwich. You can read more about the residencies here. We have also just set up a Skillshare so members can trade skills with each other and we are planning an exhibition for later in the year.
Our main aims for the year ahead are to apply for Arts Council funding and set up some exhibitions throughout the UK, as well as start a publication.
About the Author
Liz (she/they) joined It’s Nice That as news writer in December 2021. After graduating in Film from The University of Bristol, she worked freelance, writing for independent publications such as Little White Lies, INDIE magazine and design studio Evermade.