Artists’ Pandemic Stories

January 20, 2023

Telling Tales – Artists’ Pandemic Stories

Telling Tales – Artists’ Pandemic Stories is a recent qualitative longitudinal study by Dr Susan Jones which provides alternative insights into the impact of the pandemic on the lives of artists.

Commissioned by CAMP, a member-led network for the creative and visual arts community in Devon and Cornwall, this report is short but punchy. It presents existing data about the precarity of artists’ incomes, some quantitative findings about the amount of financial help that artists could draw on during the pandemic and then adds new research from interviews with thirteen artists from two areas.

According to quantitative data, visual artists suffered the worst economically amongst all arts freelancers in the pandemic period. The government’s self-employed income support scheme (SEISS) scheme was not designed to cope with the disparate nature of many artists’ incomes. Many artists found that significant income streams dried up overnight without alternative forms of support being available. For example, 25% of the respondents to the Contemporary Visual Arts Network / Earthenlamp study “Impact of the Pandemic on the Livelihood of Visual Arts Workers” were not eligible for support.

Dr Jones’ study highlights the financial stress caused by the pandemic (her research has put artists’ ineligibility for government and ACE self-employed support rather higher, at 75%), but also draws out some “unexpected positive impacts”. As Dr Jones says: “For most artists interviewed, the degree of artistic replenishment achieved during 2020-21 was unprecedented.” Artists had time to develop their practice, explore new perspectives or develop existing preoccupations.

The report explores the mixed feelings that artists had about the pandemic period and provides lots of food for thought about what career success might look like for an artist. We would also recommend reading the Contemporary Visual Arts Network / Earthenlamp study from 2021 for lots more specific data about how artists’ incomes were impacted by COVID.