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Sun. Jul 14th, 2024

Club for working class people in the art world launches in London

By Vaseline May31,2024

A new club is being launched for people working in the British arts scene and from lower socio-economic backgrounds. The London-based club, called Arts and Graft, was founded by Meg Molloy, head of communications at Stephen Friedman Gallery. The independent organization is “for bringing people together, networking, hosting events, socializing and more,” the online form says for those who wish to register their interest in participating. Since the new group was announced on LinkedIn and Instagram on May 24, hundreds of people registered.

Molloy, who is from Margate and personally identifies as someone from a lower socio-economic background, says the idea for the club came from informal conversations about the subject with friends and peers. “I thought for a while that there was something missing for people in galleries from lower socio-economic backgrounds,” she says. “There are a number of support networks, but nothing seemed to cover what I was looking for, and some are too expensive to join.”

According to a 2018 report by Create London and Arts Emergency, around 18.2% of people in the arts in Britain come from a working-class background. A somewhat controversial term, ‘working class background’, is defined by the British government as those whose parents had a technical and craft profession; routine, semi-routine manual and service occupations; or were unemployed for long periods of time. Many prefer the somewhat interchangeable phrase “low socio-economic background.” Molloy says the term is more personal and clear: “It may have to do with where you come from and how much money you had growing up, but it’s also so much more than that. We are open-minded and understand that there are complexities in how you perceive your social positioning.”

Talking about class remains a taboo in the contemporary art world, which is still dominated by people from privileged backgrounds, as discussed in a recent article in The Art Newspaper. Molloy believes that’s why it can feel lonely to be working class in the art world. “Whether it’s not knowing someone with a posh private view, having a certain accent, or having other points of reference with coworkers, it’s possible to feel like you don’t fit in,” she says. “I want to connect people to build strong relationships, create dialogue, facilitate and find ways to educate and help our community.”

Laura Gosney, press manager for visual arts at London’s Southbank Centre, says she eagerly signed up for Arts and Graft. “I’m really excited to meet others from similar backgrounds to mine who work in the arts and hear their stories,” she says. Gosney, who grew up on a rural farm before moving to London to study and work, says she has often hidden her background from peers.

“The art world can sometimes feel almost impenetrable to those who did not live in upper-class circles growing up, or who did not attend private school. Even in public galleries, guests and connections can feel very cliquey,” says Gosney. “On a private visit, where I felt particularly uneasy among the guests, I remember saying that I came from a country estate rather than a working farm – not because I felt like I was in any way ashamed, on the contrary, but because I was so desperate that I felt like I belonged there. I can’t count how many times I’ve made my accent sound more upper class, or I’ve come home to my partner and cried because I felt like I didn’t belong.

While she believes her working-class background has taught her many of the skills needed to succeed in the industry – such as hard work, perseverance and drive – she also argues that more support is needed. “I am confident that Arts and Graft will have a real impact and change in the industry, and I want to use my experience and knowledge to further Meg’s mission in any way I can,” she adds.

Arts and Graft will hold an official launch event this summer and Molloy is currently hiring. “Our first meeting needs a location and some sponsorship. Our plans are ambitious and we need support to make things happen,” she says. In the future, Molloy hopes to expand the club’s reach. “What I would really like to do is go to schools and other learning environments to start conversations about working in the arts. I wish someone had done that when I was in school,” she says. “To let young people know that there is an art world, that jobs like mine exist, that there are options. I think it’s so important, especially in today’s political climate.”

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