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Manifesto for digital arts work placements

As part of the ReGrowing Digital Arts research project with Dr Michael Pierre Johnson, a creative economy researcher based at the Innovation School, The Glasgow School of Art, NEoN recently appointed Beatrix Elizabeth Livesey-Stephens to develop a ‘Manifesto for Digital Arts Work Placements’ that can inform best practice across the digital arts creative and cultural sector. This manifesto aims to articulate best practice for internships, volunteering and research collaborations in a way that can help set up and support the best access, the best experience and best development opportunities with NEoN and any HEIs, cultural organisations and individuals across the digital arts community.

We caught up with Beatrix and she told us a little about herself, and how she will approach this commission. 

My name is Beatrix (Bea) and I am a third-year undergraduate studying Language & Linguistics at the University of Aberdeen. I am a member of the Artificial Womb feminist arts collective, and an ambassador for the student-led TABOU Disability Magazine. Last year I was on the steering committee for the WayWORD cross-arts festival, and this year I am acting as a legacy committee member and disability and accessibility consultant. 

Creating a best-practices manifesto for digital arts work placements is something I feel is of the utmost importance to the future of sustainable creative industries. This is especially the case for digital arts as the creative sector becomes increasingly more digital, and digital arts gains more traction in the cultural sphere. There is an overwhelming narrative of work in the creative sector being more fun or easier than that of other sectors. This is often because the work done in the creative industry is seen as closer to that of a hobby, when in reality this outlook is damaging towards those in the industry and can lead towards burnout. The narrative of creative work as fun and therefore relaxing also feeds into a culture of unpaid labour where paid labour is due, which the manifesto would set out to combat. Creative work can indeed be fun and fulfilling, but it devalues the work to think of it as something that an employee doesn’t need a rest from.  

The best-practices manifesto for digital arts work placements will clearly separate unpaid work from paid work and have clear policies regarding expectations for each of these modes. Work is (un)paid for a reason, and expectations of employees and volunteers should be transparent. That isn’t to say that the best practices of paid and unpaid work won’t overlap. They definitely will, but it’s very much worth analysing ethics around what should constitute (un)paid work, and evaluating the grey areas where creative industries have had problems in the past. Unpaid experience is often a prerequisite for paid work in the creative sector, which systematically shuts out people from low-income backgrounds. The manifesto will work to increase access to the creative sector for underrepresented groups and, evaluating the place of volunteer work in relation to paid work, in the creative sector and beyond. 

Above all, I want to strive to make the manifesto for digital arts work placements accessible. The creative sector should not be an exclusive club, and everyone has the right to be able to access the material that underpins opportunities they might be interested in. Digital arts should be equally accessible to those who do not have a certain level of education or are not native speakers of English (in the case of Scottish organisations). It is a myth that plain language makes manifestos and job opportunities “unprofessional.” It simply means that the creative arts are open to all, and more specifically, open to be shaped by all.
Beatrix Elizabeth Livesey-Stephens (she/her)