Opening Doors: Art and Inequality in the Platform Economy

Project Team

Harry Weeks
Lecturer, Fine Art, Newcastle University


Lucas Ferguson-Sharp, Northumbria University

Supporting Partner(s) 

The Newbridge Project; Newcastle University

Project timeframe

Start: September 2019
End: November 2019

Artists and Economic Precarity

Only 10% of artists believe they make enough to live on from their art practice (Arts Council England’s ‘Livelihood of Visual Artists’ report of 2018)

Harry Weeks’s research into the cultural and platform economies in Edinburgh has found that digital platforms, such as Airbnb, Deliveroo and People Per Hour, are increasingly being used by artists wishing to supplement their precarious income.

The digital economy, and especially the platform economy, is a relatively new and swiftly evolving field, fraught with barriers to solidarity, collective organisation and workers’ protections. New perspectives are urgently required in order to address and resolve these tensions.

There are many similarities between the cultural and platform economies – precarity, freelancing, lack of unionisation, informal contracts etc. – as well as shared demographics in both sectors. Therefore, knowledge gained regarding the cultural sector is relevant to digital contexts.  

Besides this, the digital economy is already embedded within the cultural sector through platforms such as Etsy which provide a marketplace for freelance cultural producers.

This project aims to …

examine the current and potential impacts of technology, in particular digital platforms, on the inequalities of the cultural sector.  

Specifically, it will …

seek to develop practical solutions to issues of unequal access to the cultural sector through open forums for artists, and investigate where and how the platform economy meets the cultural economy.

The project will address the entrenched inequalities of the cultural sector and thus advocate and work towards social justice in the sector. Cutting-edge research will be brought into direct conversation with the realities of artists in the North East.

This project’s social impact is …

to offer a context in which artists can collectively address their working situations and conditions, through open forums for artists on working conditions, worker organisation, cultural platforms, in-kind labour, diversity and precariousness.

The insights gleaned from the proposed forums and subsequent research would provide grounds upon which to propose ways in which these platforms might protect the interests of producers. These will feed into debates regarding platform cooperativism.

The NewBridge Project, the proposal’s community partner, is a leading contemporary arts organisation in Newcastle, responsive to its socio-political surroundings. It is artist-led and focused on community collaboration and is a well-known public-facing programme

The forums will be of direct benefit to NewBridge and its immediate creative communities, offering a context for stigma-free discussion on the working conditions of artists, as well as productive conversation with local and national organisations around art’s ingrained inequalities and possible solutions. This will indirectly serve the wider creative communities of the North East and beyond, by actively pushing for a more accessible, less homogenous cultural sector.

The forums will also work towards the production of a digital resource pack which will be freely shared online to facilitate the reproduction of workshops on labour and inequality.

It is expected that the research will contribute an evidence base to underpin future updates to the Artists’ Union’s Rates of Pay for Artists guidelines.

Final Project Report

This micro-project came to an end in December 2019. You can read what happened and what the research findings were here.

Explanation of key terms

Gig Economy: The gig economy is a way of working that is based on people having temporary jobs or doing separate pieces of work, each paid separately, rather than working for an employer: workers do odd jobs whenever they can and can find it difficult to make a living, although some enjoy the flexibility.