Freelancers are fundamental to sector’s recovery - Museums Association

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Freelancers are fundamental to sector’s recovery

Value and support these workers
Freelance
Marge Ainsley and Christina Lister
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Marge Ainsley (left) and Christina Lister are the founders of the Museum Freelance network
Marge Ainsley (left) and Christina Lister are the founders of the Museum Freelance network

After six years and much consideration, we’re bringing Museum Freelance to a close to make more time for personal commitments and to pursue new professional opportunities.

Having started with a humble Twitter account, we grew Museum Freelance into a network of more than 2,000 freelancers, delivered three conferences, developed training sessions for freelancers and organisations, provided an online blog and resource hub, undertook research, secured funding for freelancers, organised free socials and spoke at various sector events.

As a result, freelancers are more of a community now, able to connect and see each other as collaborators, rather than competitors. We’re encouraged to see that the contribution freelancers make and the challenges they face are increasingly being acknowledged by the sector’s leaders and organisations. Our survey has provided an evidence base, our guides have provided best-practice advice and our lobbying and advocacy work has increased the visibility of freelancers. There’s been a noticeable shift in how freelancers are perceived and valued, and in the commitments that some organisations are taking to improve things.

We’re incredibly proud of what we’ve achieved, particularly in helping to connect freelancers with each other; publishing the sector’s first in-depth study into freelancers; and securing £29,000 of hardship and CPD funding to support freelancers in need during Covid-19 – money that the Museums Association helped to distribute.

We pushed ourselves out of our comfort zone, took a leap of faith by investing our own money to create conference and training courses from scratch, and undertook lobbying and advocacy work – in public and behind the scenes. We’ve been touched by messages from freelancers to say that
our support, resources and events have made them feel less lonely and more empowered, given them a voice and boosted their confidence.

Looking ahead, the sector’s recovery from Covid needs the expertise, ideas and flexibility that freelancers provide. It’s vital that conditions are fostered to ensure that freelancers – and therefore their skills and expertise – remain in the sector.

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While there have been noticeable improvements, progress hasn’t been consistent and fundamental issues persist, particularly poor freelance pay, procurement and contracts. As a result, freelancing continues to be out of reach as a financially viable and sustainable option for many, perpetuating a lack of diversity.

The sector needs to step up as a collective to address these inequities. In particular we’d like to see funders and sector support organisations provide clear advice and specific criteria about how to commission, pay fairly and work with freelancers as a condition of funding. The freelance workforce should be included in strategic planning around grants and workforce development.

Freelancers will continue to be a fundamental part of the sector however it evolves, and they must be valued and supported.

Marge Ainsley and Christina Lister are the founders of the Museum Freelance network

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