May 21, 2020

Weston Jerwood Creative Bursaries: Our Covid-19 Response

Like many others in mid-March, we had a busy timetable ahead of us as we planned for the launch of the fourth edition of the Weston Jerwood Creative Bursaries. We had just selected, but had not yet announced, the 50 organisations that would host 50 Fellows in year-long Fellowships due to start in September this year.

Overnight, we put the programme on hold as it was clear life would change radically for us all in response to Covid-19. We did not want to put more pressure on Hosts than they were already facing and we needed time to understand the implications for the programme.

Since then we have consulted widely with our partners, funders and peer organisations in the arts and cultural sectors and social mobility organisations to assess the impact of the pandemic on our industries: for organisations, for the workforce and for artists, curators and producers.

What has become clear is that people are still excited for the programme and its value at this time is amplified as we start to individually and collectively think about how things might be able to change for the better as the sector stabilises and recovers from the pandemic.

Prioritising socio-economic diversity and inclusion

As a programme committed to improving socio-economic diversity and inclusion across the arts and cultural sector, we want to understand how we can support organisations to prioritise this agenda whilst their programmes and business models have been turned upside down. We also want to understand how we can support early-career artists and leaders whose futures have been upended.

We know that the impact of Covid-19 will be particularly sharp for the programme’s future Fellows. They will be from backgrounds already underrepresented in our sector as a result of persistent structural inequalities which stand to deepen due to Covid-19. With even fewer opportunities to join the arts and cultural sector on the horizon, we risk losing a generation of outstanding artists and creatives, and with them all the momentum around fairer access which has been building up over the past ten years.  We also risk losing a crucial pathway out of this crisis: harnessing their power, energy and ideas.

As Caroline Norbury (CEO, Creative England and Creative Industries Federation) wrote recently in an email to members:

Many organisations are already thinking about how the short-term changes we are making now could impact our recovery further down the line. We know that the economic downturn will hit young and underrepresented people the hardest. Combined with existing structural inequalities, the precarity of creative careers and a lack of visible role models, we are quite frankly risking major losses to our talent pipeline. This will hit the hard-to-reach communities the most – producing more barriers to entry for people already in industry, coming in as graduates, or engaging as audiences through vital participation programmes.

Our industry can’t afford to lose them and the diversity of thought and experience they bring. Moreover, we can’t let them down, their dreams go unrealised, their life plans derailed.

Next steps for Weston Jerwood Creative Bursaries

We are in contact with our 50 selected Host organisations to start a conversation with them about how we can adapt the programme in response to Covid-19.  Our aim is to hold on to the original focus and design while being as flexible as we can to make it possible for the majority to stay involved and create transformative Fellowships.  For starters, working closely with our partners people make it work, we are planning to:

  • delay the start of the programme so our Hosts recruit their Fellows this autumn. The Fellowships will run throughout 2021
  • increase the amount of funding to Hosts so we cover a higher percentage of the Fellows’ salary and can increase access costs as required
  • accept revised job descriptions where the Fellowship needs to change, while retaining their strong artistic/creative focus
  • co-create digital versions of the Hosts’ Organisational Development Programme and Fellows’ Training through to spring 2021

The conversations with our Hosts over the next few months will help us to think more about what the short and long-term prognosis will be for increasing fair employment and access to the arts during a time of crisis and the recovery that will follow.  It is a complicated picture and the situation is changing rapidly but it is already clear that the deepening of social inequalities is likely to be one of the most lasting impacts.

As organisations start re-imagining their programmes and structures, there is the opportunity to radically rethink what they might contribute to their communities and audiences, how they will work with artists and make new work, and how they might run differently. They may have new solutions, new strategies and new priorities that would benefit from the support of the Weston Jerwood Creative Bursaries.  At this fork in the road, many (such as Amanda Parker in Arts Professional) have called for diversity and inclusion to remain a top priority for the arts and cultural sector. We will support Host organisations to embrace the changes they have to make, whilst making the business, moral and creative case for accelerating socio-economic diversity and inclusion, now more than ever.

Resources for promoting socio-economic diversity and inclusion

Last summer we published Socio-Economic Diversity and Inclusion in the Arts: A Toolkit for Employers, gathering together practical ideas from the programme, alongside case studies from our previous Hosts, and partnering with the Bridge Group to bring in research and advice from other sectors.  We will look at refreshing the Toolkit in the context of Covid-19 in due course and have been consulting with other sector organisations to understand the impact of the pandemic on social equality, including attending the Social Mobility Commission’s recent online webinar: Mitigating the impact of COVID-19 on social mobility: for employers, with many useful pointers for employers in all sectors.

Our partners, people make it work, who will be leading on the Organisational Development programme for Hosts and the Fellows’ Training programme, are doing vital work currently to support arts and cultural organisations at this time. Please see their Covid-19 Response page with resources for organisations seeking to reimagine their ways of working, connecting and delivering.

We are also working closely with our programme funders and partners who are committed to learning alongside us how to best support our sector’s commitment to socio-economic diversity through the challenges of Covid-19. Weston Jerwood Creative Bursaries is the largest of three programmes in the Jerwood Arts Transforming Leadership programme, and we have been inspired and supported by colleagues working to adapt the other 17 Transforming Leadership programmes supported by Arts Council England. Partnerships and collaboration have never felt more important and we are excited to start working closely with our Host organisations over the coming months.

Amidst the very real threat to the survival of our sector, we want to focus on the green shoots of the future. Artists, producers and curators are renowned for finding fresh ways of looking at and making sense of the world, and the next generation of voices to emerge from this crisis will need to be more visionary than ever.  Because this programme is not just about creating fair employment access, it is about how we value our differences and perspectives to generate our best possible shared future.

Further Reading

This is what we have been reading and responding to from our partners and peers:

Nik Miller, CEO, the Bridge Group blog Inequality and silver linings: early learning from the pandemic

Dr Dave O’Brien, PEC blog Class, Covid-19 & Cultural Occupations

Richard Watts, CEO, people make it work: Five Steps towards a new future

Beatfreeks Take the Temperature Report

New Writing North Common People – anthology, development programme and podcast

Exeunt Magazine Theatre’s Left Behind Freelancers, Alice Saville

Guardian, We must use Arts funding to rewild our cultural landscape after coronavirus, Suzanne Moore

BBC, Creative Diversity Vision


The Weston Jerwood Creative Bursaries programme is dedicated to supporting outstanding early-career artists, curators, producers and creatives to thrive, and working in partnership with leading arts and cultural organisations to discover how an inclusive, intersectional approach to recruitment, talent development and organisational change can future-proof their mission.

The Weston Jerwood Creative Bursaries 2020-2022 programme is designed and produced by Jerwood Arts. It is funded and supported by Arts Council England’s Transforming Leadership Fund, Garfield Weston Foundation, Art Fund, Arts Council of Wales, Creative Scotland, British Council, Jerwood Arts and PRS Foundation.