1,243 Voices: Live Performance Artists' Experiences of Covid-19 and Hopes for the Future

24 November 2021

Today we are publishing two research reports under the title 1,243 Voices: Live Performance Artists’ Experiences of Covid-19 and Live Performance Artists’ Hopes for a Post-Covid Future.

Live Performance Artists Experiences of Covid-19

Live Performance Artists Hopes for a Post-Covid Future


The first captures survey responses from 1,243 artists, creatives and producers about their experience of lockdown as they tried to hold onto their livelihoods. The second looks at their hopes for the future and how the live music and performing arts sector might rebuild post-pandemic.

We believe the 1,243 Voices reports provide a valuable resource for arts organisations, funders and policy makers, especially those in positions of power, responsibility and decision-making in relation to the freelance artist workforce. They channel the experiences and ideas of classical and contemporary composers and music creators to choreographers, live and circus artists, writers for the stage, theatre makers, directors and set, lighting, sound, movement and video designers, and all types of independent producers.

To provide some background: when we invited people to apply for the Live Work Fund in autumn 2020, we also asked them to fill in an optional survey about how they had been surviving the shutdown of the live music and performing arts sector, and about their hopes for how it might return to life in the future. The generosity of time and thought that had gone into these responses was matched by our sense of responsibility to share them publicly.

A year on from when the surveys were completed, we believe now is the right time to release these reports. Music, theatre and the performing arts have come back to life at venues, festivals and outdoors settings up and down the country, and while there remains much uncertainty, we are starting to see whether people’s hopes for the future are being matched by reality.

In particular, the Live Performance Artists’ Hopes for a Post-Covid Future report digests 1,816 individual freely written responses: a powerful collection of reflections from early-career artists, creatives and producers that can help us all shape the future of the music and performing arts sectors. Their voices contain hope, inquisitiveness, reflection, humour, tiredness, resignation, frustration and anger. We have endeavoured to do justice to these by including a wide range of quotes from people’s responses. Reviewing the comments, we drew out key themes including demands for more inclusive opportunities and better representation in commissioning, programming and at all levels in the arts. People wanted better pay and working conditions and there was a strong sentiment coming through that freelancers needed to be better supported to improve their work/life balance. We were also struck by how undervalued artists, creatives and producers felt by society, with a lack of appreciation for the role they play in the wider public’s health, wellbeing and happiness.

These themes reverberated through our own work at Jerwood Arts in 2021 as we tried to make our opportunities and support for artists more inclusive and equitable. We introduced a series of artist workshops for over 120 funded artists on topics including fundraising, self-care and promoting their work in the digital realm. We strove to improve the accessibility of our opportunities and we tried a new approach of random selection in a funding opportunity for the first time. We trialed new approaches, for example, providing more nuance to our definition of what “early-career” (our long-standing focus as a funder) might look like, and we experimented with shorter applications forms that we hoped would take less of applicants’ time to fill in. The 1:1 FUND was designed to counter the isolating impact of Covid-19, focusing particularly on pairs of artists working together, reflecting on the value of peer-to-peer connection and support people told us they had experienced during lockdown in the Live Work Fund survey.

From our conversations with arts organisations and fellow funders, we know that there is widespread recognition of the need for positive change across the arts following the lockdowns. We also know that artists lives and livelihoods were highly precarious before Covid-19, and in many ways the pandemic has only made visible pre-existing inequalities and barriers. We are committed to addressing these issues in our own work, and we hope the voices in these reports will inspire arts organisations, funders and policy makers to take note and reflect on their own practices and plans. The reports do not provide neat answers, but they are full of provocations and fuel for change. We invite you to share these reports widely and hope they will provide the evidence and testimony needed for instigating meaningful action.

Join us in listening to artists, and working towards a fairer and humane arts sector for the next generation of freelance artists, creatives and producers to thrive in. We are happy to receive feedback and responses to these reports and welcome the chance to discuss them further. If you have a forum to host a conversation on support for freelance artists, creatives and producers, please get in touch. Behind the 1,243 Voices reports there is an enormous data set, which we are happy to share in an anonymised form to anyone who would like to take this research further.

Jon Opie, Deputy Director