Celebrating the work of the Working Class Creatives Database (WCCD) with founder Seren Metcalfe
With WCCD's exhibitions showing now at SET Woolwich, we sat down with founder and co-director Seren Metcalfe to discuss tackling inequality in the art world...
August 11, 2023
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Working class art

Earlier this year Industria, in collaboration with a-n The Artists Information Company, published an enquiry into artists’ pay and conditions in the public sector, which revealed that the median hourly artist pay was £2.60 (spanning the period 2010-2022). No wonder, then, that being a financially successful artist is an occupation seemingly reserved for the wealthy. 

But this is not an issue born out of Tory-engineered austerity, or even more broadly 21st century late capitalism; throughout history, working class people have been excluded from enjoying art in different forms, or from being recognised for their contribution to culture. From the controlling patronage of artists by aristocrats in Western Europe during the Renaissance to the inaccessible designs of architects of Modernism, people without wealth have time and again been omitted from the making of culture and its histories. This issue feels most pertinent in Britain now, within the context of an increasingly market-driven “art world” and a suffocating cost of living crisis: it is virtually impossible to make a living as an artist without working multiple other jobs and/or external financial support. 

Enter the Working Class Creatives Database: founded in 2020 by Seren Metcalfe, WCCD is “a space that puts working class creatives at the forefront; a space for conversation, connections, and sharing of opportunities, skills, and knowledge”. The Database has three key aims: to create a community for working class creatives; to tackle classism; to provide a platform for working class creatives. This is vital work given the current financial situation for artists, as outlined by the Industria report. The Database is run by Metcalfe and co-director Chanelle Windas, although it is fundamentally reliant on community participation and there is a core group of members who help with the newsletter, residencies, and exhibitions. WCCD now has over 700 members and has been steadily growing its profile in the past three years, from Metcalfe and Windas being invited to talk at institutions across the UK to the Database hosting residencies with various organisations. In January 2023, the WCCD opened a group exhibition at 87 Gallery in Hull and in April an exhibition at Hypha Studios in London. On 4th August Gatherings opened at SET Woolwich (running until the 17th): the first show Metcalfe has curated for WCCD and the biggest the Database has staged so far with 28 of their members exhibiting.

The State in Which We Are, Kelly Wu, 2023 (Found objects installation)

The works in the exhibition cover all media and represent a huge range of working class identities. This is the immediately apparent success of the show: to demonstrate that a working class identity is not a homogenous entity but must be considered with greater nuance and through intersections with other minority identities. Martha Summers’ ‘TOOLbelt’, combining a strap-on harness and a tool belt, playfully examines the construction of a working class butch lesbian identity, and the role class plays in desire for all identities. Whilst Kelly Wu’s enchanting ‘The State in Which We Are’, an installation of found objects that overflows like a Sarah Sze sculpture, documents Wu’s Chinese mother’s hoarding: a reflection on identity constructed through material possessions. Metcalfe has observed how “within the art world working class iconography has become quite popular - the England flag, football shirts - work that is quite easy to digest” – indeed, a vision of working class people that easily slips into a - generally derogatory - stereotype. Gatherings steers clear of any such iconography or stereotype and instead shares a glimpse of the wealth of history and experience that a working class identity offers.

TOOLbelt, Martha Summers, 2022

Much of this richness comes from personal experience, poetically relayed here through art, such as in ‘My dad’s letter’ by Niamh Quigley: quite simply a letter Niamh’s dad gave her the day she moved to London, full of parental worry and love, displayed in a frame. The letter reveals the fear (‘Never go far at night – not worth it’) and hope (‘Aim high in life – why not’) of a parent sending their child to the capital, and their future life; a sentiment both universally relatable and born from the singular experience of growing up outside of a financially and culturally dominant centre.

My dad’s letter, Niamh Quigly

Some of the work can feel slightly underdeveloped, but it also feels entirely appropriate for the Database to support artists at all different stages in their practice without hierarchy: the inaccessibility of the “art world” often makes it impossible for artists to publicly share work and receive helpful feedback from others. If there is hope for a society in which being an artist is not depressingly inaccessible to those from lower socio-economic backgrounds, much of it can be found in the Database; WCCD has been founded when it’s needed most, and with ‘Gatherings’, it is now hitting its stride. 

We caught up with founder Seren Metcalfe to talk about ‘Gatherings’ and being working class in the “art world”:

How did this exhibition come about?

WCCD was a recipient of SET’s free space for community groups initiative, and we have hosted 8 residencies since 2021 for members who do not have access to a studio space. We wanted to begin by showcasing the work of the 8 creatives, and then we found a common theme with their works and made an open call to the wider WCCD group. We had found out we were successful with our application at a similar time to not being successful with Arts Council funding and I personally wanted to take on the project to prove that we could put on a professional show that was engaging to the community and the art world. WCCD is predominantly online, and for us it’s about gathering our community together. This exhibition brings creatives together from Sheffield, Newcastle, Scotland, Yorkshire, Nottingham, Birmingham, Scunthorpe, Essex, Redruth to name a few. When choosing the works, it felt like we were crows selecting gifts to bring back to our nest. It was a challenge bringing together 28 artists from across the UK to a very big industrial space in London especially because WCCD is volunteer-run - I had the help of Ross Hammond with installing the show but it was basically just us two.

How have you responded to the exhibition being at SET Woolwich?

It’s always been common for artists to use disused spaces – “meanwhile” spaces. This building is an ex-council building; SET are the cheapest artist studios in London and have over 1000 creatives. Since SET moved here in 2021 the landscape has changed drastically: a lot of high-rise flats, the Elizabeth line, a Marks & Spencer. It stands in stark difference to the original Woolwich high street: the exhibition space is mostly windows, and I didn’t want to ignore the stark difference between the high-rise apartments on one side of the building and the old high street on the other.

Also: what does it mean to have an exhibition in London when we have talked so much about having exhibitions in areas outside of London? It’s interesting how creatives feel we have to move to London for opportunities: when selecting artists over half said they were based in London. It was important for me to put where they were from and the majority ended up being from outside of the capital.

Do you feel that class is the most overlooked barrier within the art world?

Class is definitely the most overlooked barrier in the art world - not just being an artist but having a career in the arts - gallerist, curator, advisor. I think it begins with school. A lot of private schools have art history in addition to art, as well as an array of arts facilities - when moving on to university, you are already at a disadvantage. From my experience of attending university, I felt not very well read, I didn’t feel equipped for art conversations, and I felt my work was coming from more of a personal place than an aesthetic or academic one. I started the database because I was one of the few working class creatives on my course. I wanted to have a community of creatives that had similar experiences, that came from similar places.

What could change to make the art world a more inclusive space in terms of class?

I think we must start with education: the difference between those coming from private education and state schools. There needs to be more funding and focus on the arts within schools, after schools’ clubs, youth clubs etc. Also, we should look at the type of art people are exposed to when they're younger - if any at all. There's a very big difference between a commercial gallery in Mayfair and a gallery off the high street of Hull and I don’t think there should be. I also don’t think we are equipped for the business side of being an artist. It’s a massive financial risk for a working class person to become an artist; there's a lot more pressure on working class creatives to succeed. Within art schools, there should be support and education for becoming a freelancer and entering the art world.

From talking to people who attended private school and those who attended state school a topic that is discussed frequently is confidence. To be an artist you have to be confident in what you are creating and putting it out into the world. In state schools you are taught to be good enough to pass an exam to the lowest grade, but in private schools you are taught to achieve the highest. From discussions with database members many have or have considered giving up their art career.

There's also not the same support when leaving university: connections and nepotism are ways of accessing the art world. Most artists need a job to support their practice and I found that a lot of my friends were getting jobs in galleries, assisting artists because they were friends of their parents. For most working class creatives there's not that instant connection to the art world. How do we create careers for not just working class artists but working class curators and gallerists? As a database, we have tried to form these connections amongst each other. 

Who do you look up to? Who or what organisation do you find inspiring? 

I’d say there are not many people doing what we are doing - or not many that I am aware of. I think Arts Emergency is doing similar work by mentoring young people to get a fair start in the arts. I also think Make Bank is doing a great job providing disadvantaged high school pupils with art materials and resources. Guts Gallery is the only representation, I can think of, of a working class gallerist. Run The Check are also a great advertiser of creative jobs; Creative Access also advertise jobs for those underrepresented in the arts.

What’s next for the WCCD?

Currently, due to being unsuccessful with our funding, we are at a place where we have to consider how we operate. There’s so much enjoyment and benefits for the artists involved when we create these exhibitions and residencies, but we are now looking at sustainability. How can we sustain what we are doing as well as making sure we are creating long-lasting change within the art world? We are about to create a members’ survey to find out what our members want and need and that will determine our direction. Do we want to operate as a charity? A business? A gallery? We began as an Instagram page and our community has guided what we have become – it’s been very natural and fluid so now I think we have some important decisions to make. In the next few years, I hope we can get funding. I’m working a zero-hour contract, and Chanelle works full time; We are trying to be artists and run WCCD in our free time. We also want to release a book, and have a residency coming up at Yorkshire Sculpture Park we will be releasing very soon.


Gatherings is showing at SET Woolwich until 17th August.

Make sure to collect your Yamos on the gowithYamo app when you visit!

Sam Kan
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11/08/2023
Interviews
Sam Kan
Celebrating the work of the Working Class Creatives Database (WCCD) with founder Seren Metcalfe
Written by
Sam Kan
Date Published
11/08/2023
No items found.
With WCCD's exhibitions showing now at SET Woolwich, we sat down with founder and co-director Seren Metcalfe to discuss tackling inequality in the art world...

Earlier this year Industria, in collaboration with a-n The Artists Information Company, published an enquiry into artists’ pay and conditions in the public sector, which revealed that the median hourly artist pay was £2.60 (spanning the period 2010-2022). No wonder, then, that being a financially successful artist is an occupation seemingly reserved for the wealthy. 

But this is not an issue born out of Tory-engineered austerity, or even more broadly 21st century late capitalism; throughout history, working class people have been excluded from enjoying art in different forms, or from being recognised for their contribution to culture. From the controlling patronage of artists by aristocrats in Western Europe during the Renaissance to the inaccessible designs of architects of Modernism, people without wealth have time and again been omitted from the making of culture and its histories. This issue feels most pertinent in Britain now, within the context of an increasingly market-driven “art world” and a suffocating cost of living crisis: it is virtually impossible to make a living as an artist without working multiple other jobs and/or external financial support. 

Enter the Working Class Creatives Database: founded in 2020 by Seren Metcalfe, WCCD is “a space that puts working class creatives at the forefront; a space for conversation, connections, and sharing of opportunities, skills, and knowledge”. The Database has three key aims: to create a community for working class creatives; to tackle classism; to provide a platform for working class creatives. This is vital work given the current financial situation for artists, as outlined by the Industria report. The Database is run by Metcalfe and co-director Chanelle Windas, although it is fundamentally reliant on community participation and there is a core group of members who help with the newsletter, residencies, and exhibitions. WCCD now has over 700 members and has been steadily growing its profile in the past three years, from Metcalfe and Windas being invited to talk at institutions across the UK to the Database hosting residencies with various organisations. In January 2023, the WCCD opened a group exhibition at 87 Gallery in Hull and in April an exhibition at Hypha Studios in London. On 4th August Gatherings opened at SET Woolwich (running until the 17th): the first show Metcalfe has curated for WCCD and the biggest the Database has staged so far with 28 of their members exhibiting.

The State in Which We Are, Kelly Wu, 2023 (Found objects installation)

The works in the exhibition cover all media and represent a huge range of working class identities. This is the immediately apparent success of the show: to demonstrate that a working class identity is not a homogenous entity but must be considered with greater nuance and through intersections with other minority identities. Martha Summers’ ‘TOOLbelt’, combining a strap-on harness and a tool belt, playfully examines the construction of a working class butch lesbian identity, and the role class plays in desire for all identities. Whilst Kelly Wu’s enchanting ‘The State in Which We Are’, an installation of found objects that overflows like a Sarah Sze sculpture, documents Wu’s Chinese mother’s hoarding: a reflection on identity constructed through material possessions. Metcalfe has observed how “within the art world working class iconography has become quite popular - the England flag, football shirts - work that is quite easy to digest” – indeed, a vision of working class people that easily slips into a - generally derogatory - stereotype. Gatherings steers clear of any such iconography or stereotype and instead shares a glimpse of the wealth of history and experience that a working class identity offers.

TOOLbelt, Martha Summers, 2022

Much of this richness comes from personal experience, poetically relayed here through art, such as in ‘My dad’s letter’ by Niamh Quigley: quite simply a letter Niamh’s dad gave her the day she moved to London, full of parental worry and love, displayed in a frame. The letter reveals the fear (‘Never go far at night – not worth it’) and hope (‘Aim high in life – why not’) of a parent sending their child to the capital, and their future life; a sentiment both universally relatable and born from the singular experience of growing up outside of a financially and culturally dominant centre.

My dad’s letter, Niamh Quigly

Some of the work can feel slightly underdeveloped, but it also feels entirely appropriate for the Database to support artists at all different stages in their practice without hierarchy: the inaccessibility of the “art world” often makes it impossible for artists to publicly share work and receive helpful feedback from others. If there is hope for a society in which being an artist is not depressingly inaccessible to those from lower socio-economic backgrounds, much of it can be found in the Database; WCCD has been founded when it’s needed most, and with ‘Gatherings’, it is now hitting its stride. 

We caught up with founder Seren Metcalfe to talk about ‘Gatherings’ and being working class in the “art world”:

How did this exhibition come about?

WCCD was a recipient of SET’s free space for community groups initiative, and we have hosted 8 residencies since 2021 for members who do not have access to a studio space. We wanted to begin by showcasing the work of the 8 creatives, and then we found a common theme with their works and made an open call to the wider WCCD group. We had found out we were successful with our application at a similar time to not being successful with Arts Council funding and I personally wanted to take on the project to prove that we could put on a professional show that was engaging to the community and the art world. WCCD is predominantly online, and for us it’s about gathering our community together. This exhibition brings creatives together from Sheffield, Newcastle, Scotland, Yorkshire, Nottingham, Birmingham, Scunthorpe, Essex, Redruth to name a few. When choosing the works, it felt like we were crows selecting gifts to bring back to our nest. It was a challenge bringing together 28 artists from across the UK to a very big industrial space in London especially because WCCD is volunteer-run - I had the help of Ross Hammond with installing the show but it was basically just us two.

How have you responded to the exhibition being at SET Woolwich?

It’s always been common for artists to use disused spaces – “meanwhile” spaces. This building is an ex-council building; SET are the cheapest artist studios in London and have over 1000 creatives. Since SET moved here in 2021 the landscape has changed drastically: a lot of high-rise flats, the Elizabeth line, a Marks & Spencer. It stands in stark difference to the original Woolwich high street: the exhibition space is mostly windows, and I didn’t want to ignore the stark difference between the high-rise apartments on one side of the building and the old high street on the other.

Also: what does it mean to have an exhibition in London when we have talked so much about having exhibitions in areas outside of London? It’s interesting how creatives feel we have to move to London for opportunities: when selecting artists over half said they were based in London. It was important for me to put where they were from and the majority ended up being from outside of the capital.

Do you feel that class is the most overlooked barrier within the art world?

Class is definitely the most overlooked barrier in the art world - not just being an artist but having a career in the arts - gallerist, curator, advisor. I think it begins with school. A lot of private schools have art history in addition to art, as well as an array of arts facilities - when moving on to university, you are already at a disadvantage. From my experience of attending university, I felt not very well read, I didn’t feel equipped for art conversations, and I felt my work was coming from more of a personal place than an aesthetic or academic one. I started the database because I was one of the few working class creatives on my course. I wanted to have a community of creatives that had similar experiences, that came from similar places.

What could change to make the art world a more inclusive space in terms of class?

I think we must start with education: the difference between those coming from private education and state schools. There needs to be more funding and focus on the arts within schools, after schools’ clubs, youth clubs etc. Also, we should look at the type of art people are exposed to when they're younger - if any at all. There's a very big difference between a commercial gallery in Mayfair and a gallery off the high street of Hull and I don’t think there should be. I also don’t think we are equipped for the business side of being an artist. It’s a massive financial risk for a working class person to become an artist; there's a lot more pressure on working class creatives to succeed. Within art schools, there should be support and education for becoming a freelancer and entering the art world.

From talking to people who attended private school and those who attended state school a topic that is discussed frequently is confidence. To be an artist you have to be confident in what you are creating and putting it out into the world. In state schools you are taught to be good enough to pass an exam to the lowest grade, but in private schools you are taught to achieve the highest. From discussions with database members many have or have considered giving up their art career.

There's also not the same support when leaving university: connections and nepotism are ways of accessing the art world. Most artists need a job to support their practice and I found that a lot of my friends were getting jobs in galleries, assisting artists because they were friends of their parents. For most working class creatives there's not that instant connection to the art world. How do we create careers for not just working class artists but working class curators and gallerists? As a database, we have tried to form these connections amongst each other. 

Who do you look up to? Who or what organisation do you find inspiring? 

I’d say there are not many people doing what we are doing - or not many that I am aware of. I think Arts Emergency is doing similar work by mentoring young people to get a fair start in the arts. I also think Make Bank is doing a great job providing disadvantaged high school pupils with art materials and resources. Guts Gallery is the only representation, I can think of, of a working class gallerist. Run The Check are also a great advertiser of creative jobs; Creative Access also advertise jobs for those underrepresented in the arts.

What’s next for the WCCD?

Currently, due to being unsuccessful with our funding, we are at a place where we have to consider how we operate. There’s so much enjoyment and benefits for the artists involved when we create these exhibitions and residencies, but we are now looking at sustainability. How can we sustain what we are doing as well as making sure we are creating long-lasting change within the art world? We are about to create a members’ survey to find out what our members want and need and that will determine our direction. Do we want to operate as a charity? A business? A gallery? We began as an Instagram page and our community has guided what we have become – it’s been very natural and fluid so now I think we have some important decisions to make. In the next few years, I hope we can get funding. I’m working a zero-hour contract, and Chanelle works full time; We are trying to be artists and run WCCD in our free time. We also want to release a book, and have a residency coming up at Yorkshire Sculpture Park we will be releasing very soon.


Gatherings is showing at SET Woolwich until 17th August.

Make sure to collect your Yamos on the gowithYamo app when you visit!

Thanks for reading
Collect your 5 yamos below
REDEEM YAMOS
Celebrating the work of the Working Class Creatives Database (WCCD) with founder Seren Metcalfe
Interviews
Sam Kan
Written by
Sam Kan
Date Published
11/08/2023
No items found.
With WCCD's exhibitions showing now at SET Woolwich, we sat down with founder and co-director Seren Metcalfe to discuss tackling inequality in the art world...

Earlier this year Industria, in collaboration with a-n The Artists Information Company, published an enquiry into artists’ pay and conditions in the public sector, which revealed that the median hourly artist pay was £2.60 (spanning the period 2010-2022). No wonder, then, that being a financially successful artist is an occupation seemingly reserved for the wealthy. 

But this is not an issue born out of Tory-engineered austerity, or even more broadly 21st century late capitalism; throughout history, working class people have been excluded from enjoying art in different forms, or from being recognised for their contribution to culture. From the controlling patronage of artists by aristocrats in Western Europe during the Renaissance to the inaccessible designs of architects of Modernism, people without wealth have time and again been omitted from the making of culture and its histories. This issue feels most pertinent in Britain now, within the context of an increasingly market-driven “art world” and a suffocating cost of living crisis: it is virtually impossible to make a living as an artist without working multiple other jobs and/or external financial support. 

Enter the Working Class Creatives Database: founded in 2020 by Seren Metcalfe, WCCD is “a space that puts working class creatives at the forefront; a space for conversation, connections, and sharing of opportunities, skills, and knowledge”. The Database has three key aims: to create a community for working class creatives; to tackle classism; to provide a platform for working class creatives. This is vital work given the current financial situation for artists, as outlined by the Industria report. The Database is run by Metcalfe and co-director Chanelle Windas, although it is fundamentally reliant on community participation and there is a core group of members who help with the newsletter, residencies, and exhibitions. WCCD now has over 700 members and has been steadily growing its profile in the past three years, from Metcalfe and Windas being invited to talk at institutions across the UK to the Database hosting residencies with various organisations. In January 2023, the WCCD opened a group exhibition at 87 Gallery in Hull and in April an exhibition at Hypha Studios in London. On 4th August Gatherings opened at SET Woolwich (running until the 17th): the first show Metcalfe has curated for WCCD and the biggest the Database has staged so far with 28 of their members exhibiting.

The State in Which We Are, Kelly Wu, 2023 (Found objects installation)

The works in the exhibition cover all media and represent a huge range of working class identities. This is the immediately apparent success of the show: to demonstrate that a working class identity is not a homogenous entity but must be considered with greater nuance and through intersections with other minority identities. Martha Summers’ ‘TOOLbelt’, combining a strap-on harness and a tool belt, playfully examines the construction of a working class butch lesbian identity, and the role class plays in desire for all identities. Whilst Kelly Wu’s enchanting ‘The State in Which We Are’, an installation of found objects that overflows like a Sarah Sze sculpture, documents Wu’s Chinese mother’s hoarding: a reflection on identity constructed through material possessions. Metcalfe has observed how “within the art world working class iconography has become quite popular - the England flag, football shirts - work that is quite easy to digest” – indeed, a vision of working class people that easily slips into a - generally derogatory - stereotype. Gatherings steers clear of any such iconography or stereotype and instead shares a glimpse of the wealth of history and experience that a working class identity offers.

TOOLbelt, Martha Summers, 2022

Much of this richness comes from personal experience, poetically relayed here through art, such as in ‘My dad’s letter’ by Niamh Quigley: quite simply a letter Niamh’s dad gave her the day she moved to London, full of parental worry and love, displayed in a frame. The letter reveals the fear (‘Never go far at night – not worth it’) and hope (‘Aim high in life – why not’) of a parent sending their child to the capital, and their future life; a sentiment both universally relatable and born from the singular experience of growing up outside of a financially and culturally dominant centre.

My dad’s letter, Niamh Quigly

Some of the work can feel slightly underdeveloped, but it also feels entirely appropriate for the Database to support artists at all different stages in their practice without hierarchy: the inaccessibility of the “art world” often makes it impossible for artists to publicly share work and receive helpful feedback from others. If there is hope for a society in which being an artist is not depressingly inaccessible to those from lower socio-economic backgrounds, much of it can be found in the Database; WCCD has been founded when it’s needed most, and with ‘Gatherings’, it is now hitting its stride. 

We caught up with founder Seren Metcalfe to talk about ‘Gatherings’ and being working class in the “art world”:

How did this exhibition come about?

WCCD was a recipient of SET’s free space for community groups initiative, and we have hosted 8 residencies since 2021 for members who do not have access to a studio space. We wanted to begin by showcasing the work of the 8 creatives, and then we found a common theme with their works and made an open call to the wider WCCD group. We had found out we were successful with our application at a similar time to not being successful with Arts Council funding and I personally wanted to take on the project to prove that we could put on a professional show that was engaging to the community and the art world. WCCD is predominantly online, and for us it’s about gathering our community together. This exhibition brings creatives together from Sheffield, Newcastle, Scotland, Yorkshire, Nottingham, Birmingham, Scunthorpe, Essex, Redruth to name a few. When choosing the works, it felt like we were crows selecting gifts to bring back to our nest. It was a challenge bringing together 28 artists from across the UK to a very big industrial space in London especially because WCCD is volunteer-run - I had the help of Ross Hammond with installing the show but it was basically just us two.

How have you responded to the exhibition being at SET Woolwich?

It’s always been common for artists to use disused spaces – “meanwhile” spaces. This building is an ex-council building; SET are the cheapest artist studios in London and have over 1000 creatives. Since SET moved here in 2021 the landscape has changed drastically: a lot of high-rise flats, the Elizabeth line, a Marks & Spencer. It stands in stark difference to the original Woolwich high street: the exhibition space is mostly windows, and I didn’t want to ignore the stark difference between the high-rise apartments on one side of the building and the old high street on the other.

Also: what does it mean to have an exhibition in London when we have talked so much about having exhibitions in areas outside of London? It’s interesting how creatives feel we have to move to London for opportunities: when selecting artists over half said they were based in London. It was important for me to put where they were from and the majority ended up being from outside of the capital.

Do you feel that class is the most overlooked barrier within the art world?

Class is definitely the most overlooked barrier in the art world - not just being an artist but having a career in the arts - gallerist, curator, advisor. I think it begins with school. A lot of private schools have art history in addition to art, as well as an array of arts facilities - when moving on to university, you are already at a disadvantage. From my experience of attending university, I felt not very well read, I didn’t feel equipped for art conversations, and I felt my work was coming from more of a personal place than an aesthetic or academic one. I started the database because I was one of the few working class creatives on my course. I wanted to have a community of creatives that had similar experiences, that came from similar places.

What could change to make the art world a more inclusive space in terms of class?

I think we must start with education: the difference between those coming from private education and state schools. There needs to be more funding and focus on the arts within schools, after schools’ clubs, youth clubs etc. Also, we should look at the type of art people are exposed to when they're younger - if any at all. There's a very big difference between a commercial gallery in Mayfair and a gallery off the high street of Hull and I don’t think there should be. I also don’t think we are equipped for the business side of being an artist. It’s a massive financial risk for a working class person to become an artist; there's a lot more pressure on working class creatives to succeed. Within art schools, there should be support and education for becoming a freelancer and entering the art world.

From talking to people who attended private school and those who attended state school a topic that is discussed frequently is confidence. To be an artist you have to be confident in what you are creating and putting it out into the world. In state schools you are taught to be good enough to pass an exam to the lowest grade, but in private schools you are taught to achieve the highest. From discussions with database members many have or have considered giving up their art career.

There's also not the same support when leaving university: connections and nepotism are ways of accessing the art world. Most artists need a job to support their practice and I found that a lot of my friends were getting jobs in galleries, assisting artists because they were friends of their parents. For most working class creatives there's not that instant connection to the art world. How do we create careers for not just working class artists but working class curators and gallerists? As a database, we have tried to form these connections amongst each other. 

Who do you look up to? Who or what organisation do you find inspiring? 

I’d say there are not many people doing what we are doing - or not many that I am aware of. I think Arts Emergency is doing similar work by mentoring young people to get a fair start in the arts. I also think Make Bank is doing a great job providing disadvantaged high school pupils with art materials and resources. Guts Gallery is the only representation, I can think of, of a working class gallerist. Run The Check are also a great advertiser of creative jobs; Creative Access also advertise jobs for those underrepresented in the arts.

What’s next for the WCCD?

Currently, due to being unsuccessful with our funding, we are at a place where we have to consider how we operate. There’s so much enjoyment and benefits for the artists involved when we create these exhibitions and residencies, but we are now looking at sustainability. How can we sustain what we are doing as well as making sure we are creating long-lasting change within the art world? We are about to create a members’ survey to find out what our members want and need and that will determine our direction. Do we want to operate as a charity? A business? A gallery? We began as an Instagram page and our community has guided what we have become – it’s been very natural and fluid so now I think we have some important decisions to make. In the next few years, I hope we can get funding. I’m working a zero-hour contract, and Chanelle works full time; We are trying to be artists and run WCCD in our free time. We also want to release a book, and have a residency coming up at Yorkshire Sculpture Park we will be releasing very soon.


Gatherings is showing at SET Woolwich until 17th August.

Make sure to collect your Yamos on the gowithYamo app when you visit!

Thanks for reading
Collect your 5 yamos below
REDEEM YAMOS
11/08/2023
Interviews
Sam Kan
Celebrating the work of the Working Class Creatives Database (WCCD) with founder Seren Metcalfe
Written by
Sam Kan
Date Published
11/08/2023
No items found.
With WCCD's exhibitions showing now at SET Woolwich, we sat down with founder and co-director Seren Metcalfe to discuss tackling inequality in the art world...

Earlier this year Industria, in collaboration with a-n The Artists Information Company, published an enquiry into artists’ pay and conditions in the public sector, which revealed that the median hourly artist pay was £2.60 (spanning the period 2010-2022). No wonder, then, that being a financially successful artist is an occupation seemingly reserved for the wealthy. 

But this is not an issue born out of Tory-engineered austerity, or even more broadly 21st century late capitalism; throughout history, working class people have been excluded from enjoying art in different forms, or from being recognised for their contribution to culture. From the controlling patronage of artists by aristocrats in Western Europe during the Renaissance to the inaccessible designs of architects of Modernism, people without wealth have time and again been omitted from the making of culture and its histories. This issue feels most pertinent in Britain now, within the context of an increasingly market-driven “art world” and a suffocating cost of living crisis: it is virtually impossible to make a living as an artist without working multiple other jobs and/or external financial support. 

Enter the Working Class Creatives Database: founded in 2020 by Seren Metcalfe, WCCD is “a space that puts working class creatives at the forefront; a space for conversation, connections, and sharing of opportunities, skills, and knowledge”. The Database has three key aims: to create a community for working class creatives; to tackle classism; to provide a platform for working class creatives. This is vital work given the current financial situation for artists, as outlined by the Industria report. The Database is run by Metcalfe and co-director Chanelle Windas, although it is fundamentally reliant on community participation and there is a core group of members who help with the newsletter, residencies, and exhibitions. WCCD now has over 700 members and has been steadily growing its profile in the past three years, from Metcalfe and Windas being invited to talk at institutions across the UK to the Database hosting residencies with various organisations. In January 2023, the WCCD opened a group exhibition at 87 Gallery in Hull and in April an exhibition at Hypha Studios in London. On 4th August Gatherings opened at SET Woolwich (running until the 17th): the first show Metcalfe has curated for WCCD and the biggest the Database has staged so far with 28 of their members exhibiting.

The State in Which We Are, Kelly Wu, 2023 (Found objects installation)

The works in the exhibition cover all media and represent a huge range of working class identities. This is the immediately apparent success of the show: to demonstrate that a working class identity is not a homogenous entity but must be considered with greater nuance and through intersections with other minority identities. Martha Summers’ ‘TOOLbelt’, combining a strap-on harness and a tool belt, playfully examines the construction of a working class butch lesbian identity, and the role class plays in desire for all identities. Whilst Kelly Wu’s enchanting ‘The State in Which We Are’, an installation of found objects that overflows like a Sarah Sze sculpture, documents Wu’s Chinese mother’s hoarding: a reflection on identity constructed through material possessions. Metcalfe has observed how “within the art world working class iconography has become quite popular - the England flag, football shirts - work that is quite easy to digest” – indeed, a vision of working class people that easily slips into a - generally derogatory - stereotype. Gatherings steers clear of any such iconography or stereotype and instead shares a glimpse of the wealth of history and experience that a working class identity offers.

TOOLbelt, Martha Summers, 2022

Much of this richness comes from personal experience, poetically relayed here through art, such as in ‘My dad’s letter’ by Niamh Quigley: quite simply a letter Niamh’s dad gave her the day she moved to London, full of parental worry and love, displayed in a frame. The letter reveals the fear (‘Never go far at night – not worth it’) and hope (‘Aim high in life – why not’) of a parent sending their child to the capital, and their future life; a sentiment both universally relatable and born from the singular experience of growing up outside of a financially and culturally dominant centre.

My dad’s letter, Niamh Quigly

Some of the work can feel slightly underdeveloped, but it also feels entirely appropriate for the Database to support artists at all different stages in their practice without hierarchy: the inaccessibility of the “art world” often makes it impossible for artists to publicly share work and receive helpful feedback from others. If there is hope for a society in which being an artist is not depressingly inaccessible to those from lower socio-economic backgrounds, much of it can be found in the Database; WCCD has been founded when it’s needed most, and with ‘Gatherings’, it is now hitting its stride. 

We caught up with founder Seren Metcalfe to talk about ‘Gatherings’ and being working class in the “art world”:

How did this exhibition come about?

WCCD was a recipient of SET’s free space for community groups initiative, and we have hosted 8 residencies since 2021 for members who do not have access to a studio space. We wanted to begin by showcasing the work of the 8 creatives, and then we found a common theme with their works and made an open call to the wider WCCD group. We had found out we were successful with our application at a similar time to not being successful with Arts Council funding and I personally wanted to take on the project to prove that we could put on a professional show that was engaging to the community and the art world. WCCD is predominantly online, and for us it’s about gathering our community together. This exhibition brings creatives together from Sheffield, Newcastle, Scotland, Yorkshire, Nottingham, Birmingham, Scunthorpe, Essex, Redruth to name a few. When choosing the works, it felt like we were crows selecting gifts to bring back to our nest. It was a challenge bringing together 28 artists from across the UK to a very big industrial space in London especially because WCCD is volunteer-run - I had the help of Ross Hammond with installing the show but it was basically just us two.

How have you responded to the exhibition being at SET Woolwich?

It’s always been common for artists to use disused spaces – “meanwhile” spaces. This building is an ex-council building; SET are the cheapest artist studios in London and have over 1000 creatives. Since SET moved here in 2021 the landscape has changed drastically: a lot of high-rise flats, the Elizabeth line, a Marks & Spencer. It stands in stark difference to the original Woolwich high street: the exhibition space is mostly windows, and I didn’t want to ignore the stark difference between the high-rise apartments on one side of the building and the old high street on the other.

Also: what does it mean to have an exhibition in London when we have talked so much about having exhibitions in areas outside of London? It’s interesting how creatives feel we have to move to London for opportunities: when selecting artists over half said they were based in London. It was important for me to put where they were from and the majority ended up being from outside of the capital.

Do you feel that class is the most overlooked barrier within the art world?

Class is definitely the most overlooked barrier in the art world - not just being an artist but having a career in the arts - gallerist, curator, advisor. I think it begins with school. A lot of private schools have art history in addition to art, as well as an array of arts facilities - when moving on to university, you are already at a disadvantage. From my experience of attending university, I felt not very well read, I didn’t feel equipped for art conversations, and I felt my work was coming from more of a personal place than an aesthetic or academic one. I started the database because I was one of the few working class creatives on my course. I wanted to have a community of creatives that had similar experiences, that came from similar places.

What could change to make the art world a more inclusive space in terms of class?

I think we must start with education: the difference between those coming from private education and state schools. There needs to be more funding and focus on the arts within schools, after schools’ clubs, youth clubs etc. Also, we should look at the type of art people are exposed to when they're younger - if any at all. There's a very big difference between a commercial gallery in Mayfair and a gallery off the high street of Hull and I don’t think there should be. I also don’t think we are equipped for the business side of being an artist. It’s a massive financial risk for a working class person to become an artist; there's a lot more pressure on working class creatives to succeed. Within art schools, there should be support and education for becoming a freelancer and entering the art world.

From talking to people who attended private school and those who attended state school a topic that is discussed frequently is confidence. To be an artist you have to be confident in what you are creating and putting it out into the world. In state schools you are taught to be good enough to pass an exam to the lowest grade, but in private schools you are taught to achieve the highest. From discussions with database members many have or have considered giving up their art career.

There's also not the same support when leaving university: connections and nepotism are ways of accessing the art world. Most artists need a job to support their practice and I found that a lot of my friends were getting jobs in galleries, assisting artists because they were friends of their parents. For most working class creatives there's not that instant connection to the art world. How do we create careers for not just working class artists but working class curators and gallerists? As a database, we have tried to form these connections amongst each other. 

Who do you look up to? Who or what organisation do you find inspiring? 

I’d say there are not many people doing what we are doing - or not many that I am aware of. I think Arts Emergency is doing similar work by mentoring young people to get a fair start in the arts. I also think Make Bank is doing a great job providing disadvantaged high school pupils with art materials and resources. Guts Gallery is the only representation, I can think of, of a working class gallerist. Run The Check are also a great advertiser of creative jobs; Creative Access also advertise jobs for those underrepresented in the arts.

What’s next for the WCCD?

Currently, due to being unsuccessful with our funding, we are at a place where we have to consider how we operate. There’s so much enjoyment and benefits for the artists involved when we create these exhibitions and residencies, but we are now looking at sustainability. How can we sustain what we are doing as well as making sure we are creating long-lasting change within the art world? We are about to create a members’ survey to find out what our members want and need and that will determine our direction. Do we want to operate as a charity? A business? A gallery? We began as an Instagram page and our community has guided what we have become – it’s been very natural and fluid so now I think we have some important decisions to make. In the next few years, I hope we can get funding. I’m working a zero-hour contract, and Chanelle works full time; We are trying to be artists and run WCCD in our free time. We also want to release a book, and have a residency coming up at Yorkshire Sculpture Park we will be releasing very soon.


Gatherings is showing at SET Woolwich until 17th August.

Make sure to collect your Yamos on the gowithYamo app when you visit!

Thanks for reading
Collect your 5 yamos below
REDEEM YAMOS
11/08/2023
Interviews
Sam Kan
Celebrating the work of the Working Class Creatives Database (WCCD) with founder Seren Metcalfe
Written by
Sam Kan
Date Published
11/08/2023
No items found.
With WCCD's exhibitions showing now at SET Woolwich, we sat down with founder and co-director Seren Metcalfe to discuss tackling inequality in the art world...

Earlier this year Industria, in collaboration with a-n The Artists Information Company, published an enquiry into artists’ pay and conditions in the public sector, which revealed that the median hourly artist pay was £2.60 (spanning the period 2010-2022). No wonder, then, that being a financially successful artist is an occupation seemingly reserved for the wealthy. 

But this is not an issue born out of Tory-engineered austerity, or even more broadly 21st century late capitalism; throughout history, working class people have been excluded from enjoying art in different forms, or from being recognised for their contribution to culture. From the controlling patronage of artists by aristocrats in Western Europe during the Renaissance to the inaccessible designs of architects of Modernism, people without wealth have time and again been omitted from the making of culture and its histories. This issue feels most pertinent in Britain now, within the context of an increasingly market-driven “art world” and a suffocating cost of living crisis: it is virtually impossible to make a living as an artist without working multiple other jobs and/or external financial support. 

Enter the Working Class Creatives Database: founded in 2020 by Seren Metcalfe, WCCD is “a space that puts working class creatives at the forefront; a space for conversation, connections, and sharing of opportunities, skills, and knowledge”. The Database has three key aims: to create a community for working class creatives; to tackle classism; to provide a platform for working class creatives. This is vital work given the current financial situation for artists, as outlined by the Industria report. The Database is run by Metcalfe and co-director Chanelle Windas, although it is fundamentally reliant on community participation and there is a core group of members who help with the newsletter, residencies, and exhibitions. WCCD now has over 700 members and has been steadily growing its profile in the past three years, from Metcalfe and Windas being invited to talk at institutions across the UK to the Database hosting residencies with various organisations. In January 2023, the WCCD opened a group exhibition at 87 Gallery in Hull and in April an exhibition at Hypha Studios in London. On 4th August Gatherings opened at SET Woolwich (running until the 17th): the first show Metcalfe has curated for WCCD and the biggest the Database has staged so far with 28 of their members exhibiting.

The State in Which We Are, Kelly Wu, 2023 (Found objects installation)

The works in the exhibition cover all media and represent a huge range of working class identities. This is the immediately apparent success of the show: to demonstrate that a working class identity is not a homogenous entity but must be considered with greater nuance and through intersections with other minority identities. Martha Summers’ ‘TOOLbelt’, combining a strap-on harness and a tool belt, playfully examines the construction of a working class butch lesbian identity, and the role class plays in desire for all identities. Whilst Kelly Wu’s enchanting ‘The State in Which We Are’, an installation of found objects that overflows like a Sarah Sze sculpture, documents Wu’s Chinese mother’s hoarding: a reflection on identity constructed through material possessions. Metcalfe has observed how “within the art world working class iconography has become quite popular - the England flag, football shirts - work that is quite easy to digest” – indeed, a vision of working class people that easily slips into a - generally derogatory - stereotype. Gatherings steers clear of any such iconography or stereotype and instead shares a glimpse of the wealth of history and experience that a working class identity offers.

TOOLbelt, Martha Summers, 2022

Much of this richness comes from personal experience, poetically relayed here through art, such as in ‘My dad’s letter’ by Niamh Quigley: quite simply a letter Niamh’s dad gave her the day she moved to London, full of parental worry and love, displayed in a frame. The letter reveals the fear (‘Never go far at night – not worth it’) and hope (‘Aim high in life – why not’) of a parent sending their child to the capital, and their future life; a sentiment both universally relatable and born from the singular experience of growing up outside of a financially and culturally dominant centre.

My dad’s letter, Niamh Quigly

Some of the work can feel slightly underdeveloped, but it also feels entirely appropriate for the Database to support artists at all different stages in their practice without hierarchy: the inaccessibility of the “art world” often makes it impossible for artists to publicly share work and receive helpful feedback from others. If there is hope for a society in which being an artist is not depressingly inaccessible to those from lower socio-economic backgrounds, much of it can be found in the Database; WCCD has been founded when it’s needed most, and with ‘Gatherings’, it is now hitting its stride. 

We caught up with founder Seren Metcalfe to talk about ‘Gatherings’ and being working class in the “art world”:

How did this exhibition come about?

WCCD was a recipient of SET’s free space for community groups initiative, and we have hosted 8 residencies since 2021 for members who do not have access to a studio space. We wanted to begin by showcasing the work of the 8 creatives, and then we found a common theme with their works and made an open call to the wider WCCD group. We had found out we were successful with our application at a similar time to not being successful with Arts Council funding and I personally wanted to take on the project to prove that we could put on a professional show that was engaging to the community and the art world. WCCD is predominantly online, and for us it’s about gathering our community together. This exhibition brings creatives together from Sheffield, Newcastle, Scotland, Yorkshire, Nottingham, Birmingham, Scunthorpe, Essex, Redruth to name a few. When choosing the works, it felt like we were crows selecting gifts to bring back to our nest. It was a challenge bringing together 28 artists from across the UK to a very big industrial space in London especially because WCCD is volunteer-run - I had the help of Ross Hammond with installing the show but it was basically just us two.

How have you responded to the exhibition being at SET Woolwich?

It’s always been common for artists to use disused spaces – “meanwhile” spaces. This building is an ex-council building; SET are the cheapest artist studios in London and have over 1000 creatives. Since SET moved here in 2021 the landscape has changed drastically: a lot of high-rise flats, the Elizabeth line, a Marks & Spencer. It stands in stark difference to the original Woolwich high street: the exhibition space is mostly windows, and I didn’t want to ignore the stark difference between the high-rise apartments on one side of the building and the old high street on the other.

Also: what does it mean to have an exhibition in London when we have talked so much about having exhibitions in areas outside of London? It’s interesting how creatives feel we have to move to London for opportunities: when selecting artists over half said they were based in London. It was important for me to put where they were from and the majority ended up being from outside of the capital.

Do you feel that class is the most overlooked barrier within the art world?

Class is definitely the most overlooked barrier in the art world - not just being an artist but having a career in the arts - gallerist, curator, advisor. I think it begins with school. A lot of private schools have art history in addition to art, as well as an array of arts facilities - when moving on to university, you are already at a disadvantage. From my experience of attending university, I felt not very well read, I didn’t feel equipped for art conversations, and I felt my work was coming from more of a personal place than an aesthetic or academic one. I started the database because I was one of the few working class creatives on my course. I wanted to have a community of creatives that had similar experiences, that came from similar places.

What could change to make the art world a more inclusive space in terms of class?

I think we must start with education: the difference between those coming from private education and state schools. There needs to be more funding and focus on the arts within schools, after schools’ clubs, youth clubs etc. Also, we should look at the type of art people are exposed to when they're younger - if any at all. There's a very big difference between a commercial gallery in Mayfair and a gallery off the high street of Hull and I don’t think there should be. I also don’t think we are equipped for the business side of being an artist. It’s a massive financial risk for a working class person to become an artist; there's a lot more pressure on working class creatives to succeed. Within art schools, there should be support and education for becoming a freelancer and entering the art world.

From talking to people who attended private school and those who attended state school a topic that is discussed frequently is confidence. To be an artist you have to be confident in what you are creating and putting it out into the world. In state schools you are taught to be good enough to pass an exam to the lowest grade, but in private schools you are taught to achieve the highest. From discussions with database members many have or have considered giving up their art career.

There's also not the same support when leaving university: connections and nepotism are ways of accessing the art world. Most artists need a job to support their practice and I found that a lot of my friends were getting jobs in galleries, assisting artists because they were friends of their parents. For most working class creatives there's not that instant connection to the art world. How do we create careers for not just working class artists but working class curators and gallerists? As a database, we have tried to form these connections amongst each other. 

Who do you look up to? Who or what organisation do you find inspiring? 

I’d say there are not many people doing what we are doing - or not many that I am aware of. I think Arts Emergency is doing similar work by mentoring young people to get a fair start in the arts. I also think Make Bank is doing a great job providing disadvantaged high school pupils with art materials and resources. Guts Gallery is the only representation, I can think of, of a working class gallerist. Run The Check are also a great advertiser of creative jobs; Creative Access also advertise jobs for those underrepresented in the arts.

What’s next for the WCCD?

Currently, due to being unsuccessful with our funding, we are at a place where we have to consider how we operate. There’s so much enjoyment and benefits for the artists involved when we create these exhibitions and residencies, but we are now looking at sustainability. How can we sustain what we are doing as well as making sure we are creating long-lasting change within the art world? We are about to create a members’ survey to find out what our members want and need and that will determine our direction. Do we want to operate as a charity? A business? A gallery? We began as an Instagram page and our community has guided what we have become – it’s been very natural and fluid so now I think we have some important decisions to make. In the next few years, I hope we can get funding. I’m working a zero-hour contract, and Chanelle works full time; We are trying to be artists and run WCCD in our free time. We also want to release a book, and have a residency coming up at Yorkshire Sculpture Park we will be releasing very soon.


Gatherings is showing at SET Woolwich until 17th August.

Make sure to collect your Yamos on the gowithYamo app when you visit!

Thanks for reading
Collect your 5 yamos below
REDEEM YAMOS
11/08/2023
Interviews
Sam Kan
Celebrating the work of the Working Class Creatives Database (WCCD) with founder Seren Metcalfe
Written by
Sam Kan
Date Published
11/08/2023
No items found.
With WCCD's exhibitions showing now at SET Woolwich, we sat down with founder and co-director Seren Metcalfe to discuss tackling inequality in the art world...

Earlier this year Industria, in collaboration with a-n The Artists Information Company, published an enquiry into artists’ pay and conditions in the public sector, which revealed that the median hourly artist pay was £2.60 (spanning the period 2010-2022). No wonder, then, that being a financially successful artist is an occupation seemingly reserved for the wealthy. 

But this is not an issue born out of Tory-engineered austerity, or even more broadly 21st century late capitalism; throughout history, working class people have been excluded from enjoying art in different forms, or from being recognised for their contribution to culture. From the controlling patronage of artists by aristocrats in Western Europe during the Renaissance to the inaccessible designs of architects of Modernism, people without wealth have time and again been omitted from the making of culture and its histories. This issue feels most pertinent in Britain now, within the context of an increasingly market-driven “art world” and a suffocating cost of living crisis: it is virtually impossible to make a living as an artist without working multiple other jobs and/or external financial support. 

Enter the Working Class Creatives Database: founded in 2020 by Seren Metcalfe, WCCD is “a space that puts working class creatives at the forefront; a space for conversation, connections, and sharing of opportunities, skills, and knowledge”. The Database has three key aims: to create a community for working class creatives; to tackle classism; to provide a platform for working class creatives. This is vital work given the current financial situation for artists, as outlined by the Industria report. The Database is run by Metcalfe and co-director Chanelle Windas, although it is fundamentally reliant on community participation and there is a core group of members who help with the newsletter, residencies, and exhibitions. WCCD now has over 700 members and has been steadily growing its profile in the past three years, from Metcalfe and Windas being invited to talk at institutions across the UK to the Database hosting residencies with various organisations. In January 2023, the WCCD opened a group exhibition at 87 Gallery in Hull and in April an exhibition at Hypha Studios in London. On 4th August Gatherings opened at SET Woolwich (running until the 17th): the first show Metcalfe has curated for WCCD and the biggest the Database has staged so far with 28 of their members exhibiting.

The State in Which We Are, Kelly Wu, 2023 (Found objects installation)

The works in the exhibition cover all media and represent a huge range of working class identities. This is the immediately apparent success of the show: to demonstrate that a working class identity is not a homogenous entity but must be considered with greater nuance and through intersections with other minority identities. Martha Summers’ ‘TOOLbelt’, combining a strap-on harness and a tool belt, playfully examines the construction of a working class butch lesbian identity, and the role class plays in desire for all identities. Whilst Kelly Wu’s enchanting ‘The State in Which We Are’, an installation of found objects that overflows like a Sarah Sze sculpture, documents Wu’s Chinese mother’s hoarding: a reflection on identity constructed through material possessions. Metcalfe has observed how “within the art world working class iconography has become quite popular - the England flag, football shirts - work that is quite easy to digest” – indeed, a vision of working class people that easily slips into a - generally derogatory - stereotype. Gatherings steers clear of any such iconography or stereotype and instead shares a glimpse of the wealth of history and experience that a working class identity offers.

TOOLbelt, Martha Summers, 2022

Much of this richness comes from personal experience, poetically relayed here through art, such as in ‘My dad’s letter’ by Niamh Quigley: quite simply a letter Niamh’s dad gave her the day she moved to London, full of parental worry and love, displayed in a frame. The letter reveals the fear (‘Never go far at night – not worth it’) and hope (‘Aim high in life – why not’) of a parent sending their child to the capital, and their future life; a sentiment both universally relatable and born from the singular experience of growing up outside of a financially and culturally dominant centre.

My dad’s letter, Niamh Quigly

Some of the work can feel slightly underdeveloped, but it also feels entirely appropriate for the Database to support artists at all different stages in their practice without hierarchy: the inaccessibility of the “art world” often makes it impossible for artists to publicly share work and receive helpful feedback from others. If there is hope for a society in which being an artist is not depressingly inaccessible to those from lower socio-economic backgrounds, much of it can be found in the Database; WCCD has been founded when it’s needed most, and with ‘Gatherings’, it is now hitting its stride. 

We caught up with founder Seren Metcalfe to talk about ‘Gatherings’ and being working class in the “art world”:

How did this exhibition come about?

WCCD was a recipient of SET’s free space for community groups initiative, and we have hosted 8 residencies since 2021 for members who do not have access to a studio space. We wanted to begin by showcasing the work of the 8 creatives, and then we found a common theme with their works and made an open call to the wider WCCD group. We had found out we were successful with our application at a similar time to not being successful with Arts Council funding and I personally wanted to take on the project to prove that we could put on a professional show that was engaging to the community and the art world. WCCD is predominantly online, and for us it’s about gathering our community together. This exhibition brings creatives together from Sheffield, Newcastle, Scotland, Yorkshire, Nottingham, Birmingham, Scunthorpe, Essex, Redruth to name a few. When choosing the works, it felt like we were crows selecting gifts to bring back to our nest. It was a challenge bringing together 28 artists from across the UK to a very big industrial space in London especially because WCCD is volunteer-run - I had the help of Ross Hammond with installing the show but it was basically just us two.

How have you responded to the exhibition being at SET Woolwich?

It’s always been common for artists to use disused spaces – “meanwhile” spaces. This building is an ex-council building; SET are the cheapest artist studios in London and have over 1000 creatives. Since SET moved here in 2021 the landscape has changed drastically: a lot of high-rise flats, the Elizabeth line, a Marks & Spencer. It stands in stark difference to the original Woolwich high street: the exhibition space is mostly windows, and I didn’t want to ignore the stark difference between the high-rise apartments on one side of the building and the old high street on the other.

Also: what does it mean to have an exhibition in London when we have talked so much about having exhibitions in areas outside of London? It’s interesting how creatives feel we have to move to London for opportunities: when selecting artists over half said they were based in London. It was important for me to put where they were from and the majority ended up being from outside of the capital.

Do you feel that class is the most overlooked barrier within the art world?

Class is definitely the most overlooked barrier in the art world - not just being an artist but having a career in the arts - gallerist, curator, advisor. I think it begins with school. A lot of private schools have art history in addition to art, as well as an array of arts facilities - when moving on to university, you are already at a disadvantage. From my experience of attending university, I felt not very well read, I didn’t feel equipped for art conversations, and I felt my work was coming from more of a personal place than an aesthetic or academic one. I started the database because I was one of the few working class creatives on my course. I wanted to have a community of creatives that had similar experiences, that came from similar places.

What could change to make the art world a more inclusive space in terms of class?

I think we must start with education: the difference between those coming from private education and state schools. There needs to be more funding and focus on the arts within schools, after schools’ clubs, youth clubs etc. Also, we should look at the type of art people are exposed to when they're younger - if any at all. There's a very big difference between a commercial gallery in Mayfair and a gallery off the high street of Hull and I don’t think there should be. I also don’t think we are equipped for the business side of being an artist. It’s a massive financial risk for a working class person to become an artist; there's a lot more pressure on working class creatives to succeed. Within art schools, there should be support and education for becoming a freelancer and entering the art world.

From talking to people who attended private school and those who attended state school a topic that is discussed frequently is confidence. To be an artist you have to be confident in what you are creating and putting it out into the world. In state schools you are taught to be good enough to pass an exam to the lowest grade, but in private schools you are taught to achieve the highest. From discussions with database members many have or have considered giving up their art career.

There's also not the same support when leaving university: connections and nepotism are ways of accessing the art world. Most artists need a job to support their practice and I found that a lot of my friends were getting jobs in galleries, assisting artists because they were friends of their parents. For most working class creatives there's not that instant connection to the art world. How do we create careers for not just working class artists but working class curators and gallerists? As a database, we have tried to form these connections amongst each other. 

Who do you look up to? Who or what organisation do you find inspiring? 

I’d say there are not many people doing what we are doing - or not many that I am aware of. I think Arts Emergency is doing similar work by mentoring young people to get a fair start in the arts. I also think Make Bank is doing a great job providing disadvantaged high school pupils with art materials and resources. Guts Gallery is the only representation, I can think of, of a working class gallerist. Run The Check are also a great advertiser of creative jobs; Creative Access also advertise jobs for those underrepresented in the arts.

What’s next for the WCCD?

Currently, due to being unsuccessful with our funding, we are at a place where we have to consider how we operate. There’s so much enjoyment and benefits for the artists involved when we create these exhibitions and residencies, but we are now looking at sustainability. How can we sustain what we are doing as well as making sure we are creating long-lasting change within the art world? We are about to create a members’ survey to find out what our members want and need and that will determine our direction. Do we want to operate as a charity? A business? A gallery? We began as an Instagram page and our community has guided what we have become – it’s been very natural and fluid so now I think we have some important decisions to make. In the next few years, I hope we can get funding. I’m working a zero-hour contract, and Chanelle works full time; We are trying to be artists and run WCCD in our free time. We also want to release a book, and have a residency coming up at Yorkshire Sculpture Park we will be releasing very soon.


Gatherings is showing at SET Woolwich until 17th August.

Make sure to collect your Yamos on the gowithYamo app when you visit!

Thanks for reading
Collect your 5 yamos below
REDEEM YAMOS
Written by
Sam Kan
Date Published
11/08/2023
No items found.
11/08/2023
Interviews
Sam Kan
Celebrating the work of the Working Class Creatives Database (WCCD) with founder Seren Metcalfe

Earlier this year Industria, in collaboration with a-n The Artists Information Company, published an enquiry into artists’ pay and conditions in the public sector, which revealed that the median hourly artist pay was £2.60 (spanning the period 2010-2022). No wonder, then, that being a financially successful artist is an occupation seemingly reserved for the wealthy. 

But this is not an issue born out of Tory-engineered austerity, or even more broadly 21st century late capitalism; throughout history, working class people have been excluded from enjoying art in different forms, or from being recognised for their contribution to culture. From the controlling patronage of artists by aristocrats in Western Europe during the Renaissance to the inaccessible designs of architects of Modernism, people without wealth have time and again been omitted from the making of culture and its histories. This issue feels most pertinent in Britain now, within the context of an increasingly market-driven “art world” and a suffocating cost of living crisis: it is virtually impossible to make a living as an artist without working multiple other jobs and/or external financial support. 

Enter the Working Class Creatives Database: founded in 2020 by Seren Metcalfe, WCCD is “a space that puts working class creatives at the forefront; a space for conversation, connections, and sharing of opportunities, skills, and knowledge”. The Database has three key aims: to create a community for working class creatives; to tackle classism; to provide a platform for working class creatives. This is vital work given the current financial situation for artists, as outlined by the Industria report. The Database is run by Metcalfe and co-director Chanelle Windas, although it is fundamentally reliant on community participation and there is a core group of members who help with the newsletter, residencies, and exhibitions. WCCD now has over 700 members and has been steadily growing its profile in the past three years, from Metcalfe and Windas being invited to talk at institutions across the UK to the Database hosting residencies with various organisations. In January 2023, the WCCD opened a group exhibition at 87 Gallery in Hull and in April an exhibition at Hypha Studios in London. On 4th August Gatherings opened at SET Woolwich (running until the 17th): the first show Metcalfe has curated for WCCD and the biggest the Database has staged so far with 28 of their members exhibiting.

The State in Which We Are, Kelly Wu, 2023 (Found objects installation)

The works in the exhibition cover all media and represent a huge range of working class identities. This is the immediately apparent success of the show: to demonstrate that a working class identity is not a homogenous entity but must be considered with greater nuance and through intersections with other minority identities. Martha Summers’ ‘TOOLbelt’, combining a strap-on harness and a tool belt, playfully examines the construction of a working class butch lesbian identity, and the role class plays in desire for all identities. Whilst Kelly Wu’s enchanting ‘The State in Which We Are’, an installation of found objects that overflows like a Sarah Sze sculpture, documents Wu’s Chinese mother’s hoarding: a reflection on identity constructed through material possessions. Metcalfe has observed how “within the art world working class iconography has become quite popular - the England flag, football shirts - work that is quite easy to digest” – indeed, a vision of working class people that easily slips into a - generally derogatory - stereotype. Gatherings steers clear of any such iconography or stereotype and instead shares a glimpse of the wealth of history and experience that a working class identity offers.

TOOLbelt, Martha Summers, 2022

Much of this richness comes from personal experience, poetically relayed here through art, such as in ‘My dad’s letter’ by Niamh Quigley: quite simply a letter Niamh’s dad gave her the day she moved to London, full of parental worry and love, displayed in a frame. The letter reveals the fear (‘Never go far at night – not worth it’) and hope (‘Aim high in life – why not’) of a parent sending their child to the capital, and their future life; a sentiment both universally relatable and born from the singular experience of growing up outside of a financially and culturally dominant centre.

My dad’s letter, Niamh Quigly

Some of the work can feel slightly underdeveloped, but it also feels entirely appropriate for the Database to support artists at all different stages in their practice without hierarchy: the inaccessibility of the “art world” often makes it impossible for artists to publicly share work and receive helpful feedback from others. If there is hope for a society in which being an artist is not depressingly inaccessible to those from lower socio-economic backgrounds, much of it can be found in the Database; WCCD has been founded when it’s needed most, and with ‘Gatherings’, it is now hitting its stride. 

We caught up with founder Seren Metcalfe to talk about ‘Gatherings’ and being working class in the “art world”:

How did this exhibition come about?

WCCD was a recipient of SET’s free space for community groups initiative, and we have hosted 8 residencies since 2021 for members who do not have access to a studio space. We wanted to begin by showcasing the work of the 8 creatives, and then we found a common theme with their works and made an open call to the wider WCCD group. We had found out we were successful with our application at a similar time to not being successful with Arts Council funding and I personally wanted to take on the project to prove that we could put on a professional show that was engaging to the community and the art world. WCCD is predominantly online, and for us it’s about gathering our community together. This exhibition brings creatives together from Sheffield, Newcastle, Scotland, Yorkshire, Nottingham, Birmingham, Scunthorpe, Essex, Redruth to name a few. When choosing the works, it felt like we were crows selecting gifts to bring back to our nest. It was a challenge bringing together 28 artists from across the UK to a very big industrial space in London especially because WCCD is volunteer-run - I had the help of Ross Hammond with installing the show but it was basically just us two.

How have you responded to the exhibition being at SET Woolwich?

It’s always been common for artists to use disused spaces – “meanwhile” spaces. This building is an ex-council building; SET are the cheapest artist studios in London and have over 1000 creatives. Since SET moved here in 2021 the landscape has changed drastically: a lot of high-rise flats, the Elizabeth line, a Marks & Spencer. It stands in stark difference to the original Woolwich high street: the exhibition space is mostly windows, and I didn’t want to ignore the stark difference between the high-rise apartments on one side of the building and the old high street on the other.

Also: what does it mean to have an exhibition in London when we have talked so much about having exhibitions in areas outside of London? It’s interesting how creatives feel we have to move to London for opportunities: when selecting artists over half said they were based in London. It was important for me to put where they were from and the majority ended up being from outside of the capital.

Do you feel that class is the most overlooked barrier within the art world?

Class is definitely the most overlooked barrier in the art world - not just being an artist but having a career in the arts - gallerist, curator, advisor. I think it begins with school. A lot of private schools have art history in addition to art, as well as an array of arts facilities - when moving on to university, you are already at a disadvantage. From my experience of attending university, I felt not very well read, I didn’t feel equipped for art conversations, and I felt my work was coming from more of a personal place than an aesthetic or academic one. I started the database because I was one of the few working class creatives on my course. I wanted to have a community of creatives that had similar experiences, that came from similar places.

What could change to make the art world a more inclusive space in terms of class?

I think we must start with education: the difference between those coming from private education and state schools. There needs to be more funding and focus on the arts within schools, after schools’ clubs, youth clubs etc. Also, we should look at the type of art people are exposed to when they're younger - if any at all. There's a very big difference between a commercial gallery in Mayfair and a gallery off the high street of Hull and I don’t think there should be. I also don’t think we are equipped for the business side of being an artist. It’s a massive financial risk for a working class person to become an artist; there's a lot more pressure on working class creatives to succeed. Within art schools, there should be support and education for becoming a freelancer and entering the art world.

From talking to people who attended private school and those who attended state school a topic that is discussed frequently is confidence. To be an artist you have to be confident in what you are creating and putting it out into the world. In state schools you are taught to be good enough to pass an exam to the lowest grade, but in private schools you are taught to achieve the highest. From discussions with database members many have or have considered giving up their art career.

There's also not the same support when leaving university: connections and nepotism are ways of accessing the art world. Most artists need a job to support their practice and I found that a lot of my friends were getting jobs in galleries, assisting artists because they were friends of their parents. For most working class creatives there's not that instant connection to the art world. How do we create careers for not just working class artists but working class curators and gallerists? As a database, we have tried to form these connections amongst each other. 

Who do you look up to? Who or what organisation do you find inspiring? 

I’d say there are not many people doing what we are doing - or not many that I am aware of. I think Arts Emergency is doing similar work by mentoring young people to get a fair start in the arts. I also think Make Bank is doing a great job providing disadvantaged high school pupils with art materials and resources. Guts Gallery is the only representation, I can think of, of a working class gallerist. Run The Check are also a great advertiser of creative jobs; Creative Access also advertise jobs for those underrepresented in the arts.

What’s next for the WCCD?

Currently, due to being unsuccessful with our funding, we are at a place where we have to consider how we operate. There’s so much enjoyment and benefits for the artists involved when we create these exhibitions and residencies, but we are now looking at sustainability. How can we sustain what we are doing as well as making sure we are creating long-lasting change within the art world? We are about to create a members’ survey to find out what our members want and need and that will determine our direction. Do we want to operate as a charity? A business? A gallery? We began as an Instagram page and our community has guided what we have become – it’s been very natural and fluid so now I think we have some important decisions to make. In the next few years, I hope we can get funding. I’m working a zero-hour contract, and Chanelle works full time; We are trying to be artists and run WCCD in our free time. We also want to release a book, and have a residency coming up at Yorkshire Sculpture Park we will be releasing very soon.


Gatherings is showing at SET Woolwich until 17th August.

Make sure to collect your Yamos on the gowithYamo app when you visit!

Thanks for reading
Collect your 5 yamos below
REDEEM YAMOS
Celebrating the work of the Working Class Creatives Database (WCCD) with founder Seren Metcalfe
11/08/2023
Interviews
Sam Kan
Written by
Sam Kan
Date Published
11/08/2023
No items found.
With WCCD's exhibitions showing now at SET Woolwich, we sat down with founder and co-director Seren Metcalfe to discuss tackling inequality in the art world...

Earlier this year Industria, in collaboration with a-n The Artists Information Company, published an enquiry into artists’ pay and conditions in the public sector, which revealed that the median hourly artist pay was £2.60 (spanning the period 2010-2022). No wonder, then, that being a financially successful artist is an occupation seemingly reserved for the wealthy. 

But this is not an issue born out of Tory-engineered austerity, or even more broadly 21st century late capitalism; throughout history, working class people have been excluded from enjoying art in different forms, or from being recognised for their contribution to culture. From the controlling patronage of artists by aristocrats in Western Europe during the Renaissance to the inaccessible designs of architects of Modernism, people without wealth have time and again been omitted from the making of culture and its histories. This issue feels most pertinent in Britain now, within the context of an increasingly market-driven “art world” and a suffocating cost of living crisis: it is virtually impossible to make a living as an artist without working multiple other jobs and/or external financial support. 

Enter the Working Class Creatives Database: founded in 2020 by Seren Metcalfe, WCCD is “a space that puts working class creatives at the forefront; a space for conversation, connections, and sharing of opportunities, skills, and knowledge”. The Database has three key aims: to create a community for working class creatives; to tackle classism; to provide a platform for working class creatives. This is vital work given the current financial situation for artists, as outlined by the Industria report. The Database is run by Metcalfe and co-director Chanelle Windas, although it is fundamentally reliant on community participation and there is a core group of members who help with the newsletter, residencies, and exhibitions. WCCD now has over 700 members and has been steadily growing its profile in the past three years, from Metcalfe and Windas being invited to talk at institutions across the UK to the Database hosting residencies with various organisations. In January 2023, the WCCD opened a group exhibition at 87 Gallery in Hull and in April an exhibition at Hypha Studios in London. On 4th August Gatherings opened at SET Woolwich (running until the 17th): the first show Metcalfe has curated for WCCD and the biggest the Database has staged so far with 28 of their members exhibiting.

The State in Which We Are, Kelly Wu, 2023 (Found objects installation)

The works in the exhibition cover all media and represent a huge range of working class identities. This is the immediately apparent success of the show: to demonstrate that a working class identity is not a homogenous entity but must be considered with greater nuance and through intersections with other minority identities. Martha Summers’ ‘TOOLbelt’, combining a strap-on harness and a tool belt, playfully examines the construction of a working class butch lesbian identity, and the role class plays in desire for all identities. Whilst Kelly Wu’s enchanting ‘The State in Which We Are’, an installation of found objects that overflows like a Sarah Sze sculpture, documents Wu’s Chinese mother’s hoarding: a reflection on identity constructed through material possessions. Metcalfe has observed how “within the art world working class iconography has become quite popular - the England flag, football shirts - work that is quite easy to digest” – indeed, a vision of working class people that easily slips into a - generally derogatory - stereotype. Gatherings steers clear of any such iconography or stereotype and instead shares a glimpse of the wealth of history and experience that a working class identity offers.

TOOLbelt, Martha Summers, 2022

Much of this richness comes from personal experience, poetically relayed here through art, such as in ‘My dad’s letter’ by Niamh Quigley: quite simply a letter Niamh’s dad gave her the day she moved to London, full of parental worry and love, displayed in a frame. The letter reveals the fear (‘Never go far at night – not worth it’) and hope (‘Aim high in life – why not’) of a parent sending their child to the capital, and their future life; a sentiment both universally relatable and born from the singular experience of growing up outside of a financially and culturally dominant centre.

My dad’s letter, Niamh Quigly

Some of the work can feel slightly underdeveloped, but it also feels entirely appropriate for the Database to support artists at all different stages in their practice without hierarchy: the inaccessibility of the “art world” often makes it impossible for artists to publicly share work and receive helpful feedback from others. If there is hope for a society in which being an artist is not depressingly inaccessible to those from lower socio-economic backgrounds, much of it can be found in the Database; WCCD has been founded when it’s needed most, and with ‘Gatherings’, it is now hitting its stride. 

We caught up with founder Seren Metcalfe to talk about ‘Gatherings’ and being working class in the “art world”:

How did this exhibition come about?

WCCD was a recipient of SET’s free space for community groups initiative, and we have hosted 8 residencies since 2021 for members who do not have access to a studio space. We wanted to begin by showcasing the work of the 8 creatives, and then we found a common theme with their works and made an open call to the wider WCCD group. We had found out we were successful with our application at a similar time to not being successful with Arts Council funding and I personally wanted to take on the project to prove that we could put on a professional show that was engaging to the community and the art world. WCCD is predominantly online, and for us it’s about gathering our community together. This exhibition brings creatives together from Sheffield, Newcastle, Scotland, Yorkshire, Nottingham, Birmingham, Scunthorpe, Essex, Redruth to name a few. When choosing the works, it felt like we were crows selecting gifts to bring back to our nest. It was a challenge bringing together 28 artists from across the UK to a very big industrial space in London especially because WCCD is volunteer-run - I had the help of Ross Hammond with installing the show but it was basically just us two.

How have you responded to the exhibition being at SET Woolwich?

It’s always been common for artists to use disused spaces – “meanwhile” spaces. This building is an ex-council building; SET are the cheapest artist studios in London and have over 1000 creatives. Since SET moved here in 2021 the landscape has changed drastically: a lot of high-rise flats, the Elizabeth line, a Marks & Spencer. It stands in stark difference to the original Woolwich high street: the exhibition space is mostly windows, and I didn’t want to ignore the stark difference between the high-rise apartments on one side of the building and the old high street on the other.

Also: what does it mean to have an exhibition in London when we have talked so much about having exhibitions in areas outside of London? It’s interesting how creatives feel we have to move to London for opportunities: when selecting artists over half said they were based in London. It was important for me to put where they were from and the majority ended up being from outside of the capital.

Do you feel that class is the most overlooked barrier within the art world?

Class is definitely the most overlooked barrier in the art world - not just being an artist but having a career in the arts - gallerist, curator, advisor. I think it begins with school. A lot of private schools have art history in addition to art, as well as an array of arts facilities - when moving on to university, you are already at a disadvantage. From my experience of attending university, I felt not very well read, I didn’t feel equipped for art conversations, and I felt my work was coming from more of a personal place than an aesthetic or academic one. I started the database because I was one of the few working class creatives on my course. I wanted to have a community of creatives that had similar experiences, that came from similar places.

What could change to make the art world a more inclusive space in terms of class?

I think we must start with education: the difference between those coming from private education and state schools. There needs to be more funding and focus on the arts within schools, after schools’ clubs, youth clubs etc. Also, we should look at the type of art people are exposed to when they're younger - if any at all. There's a very big difference between a commercial gallery in Mayfair and a gallery off the high street of Hull and I don’t think there should be. I also don’t think we are equipped for the business side of being an artist. It’s a massive financial risk for a working class person to become an artist; there's a lot more pressure on working class creatives to succeed. Within art schools, there should be support and education for becoming a freelancer and entering the art world.

From talking to people who attended private school and those who attended state school a topic that is discussed frequently is confidence. To be an artist you have to be confident in what you are creating and putting it out into the world. In state schools you are taught to be good enough to pass an exam to the lowest grade, but in private schools you are taught to achieve the highest. From discussions with database members many have or have considered giving up their art career.

There's also not the same support when leaving university: connections and nepotism are ways of accessing the art world. Most artists need a job to support their practice and I found that a lot of my friends were getting jobs in galleries, assisting artists because they were friends of their parents. For most working class creatives there's not that instant connection to the art world. How do we create careers for not just working class artists but working class curators and gallerists? As a database, we have tried to form these connections amongst each other. 

Who do you look up to? Who or what organisation do you find inspiring? 

I’d say there are not many people doing what we are doing - or not many that I am aware of. I think Arts Emergency is doing similar work by mentoring young people to get a fair start in the arts. I also think Make Bank is doing a great job providing disadvantaged high school pupils with art materials and resources. Guts Gallery is the only representation, I can think of, of a working class gallerist. Run The Check are also a great advertiser of creative jobs; Creative Access also advertise jobs for those underrepresented in the arts.

What’s next for the WCCD?

Currently, due to being unsuccessful with our funding, we are at a place where we have to consider how we operate. There’s so much enjoyment and benefits for the artists involved when we create these exhibitions and residencies, but we are now looking at sustainability. How can we sustain what we are doing as well as making sure we are creating long-lasting change within the art world? We are about to create a members’ survey to find out what our members want and need and that will determine our direction. Do we want to operate as a charity? A business? A gallery? We began as an Instagram page and our community has guided what we have become – it’s been very natural and fluid so now I think we have some important decisions to make. In the next few years, I hope we can get funding. I’m working a zero-hour contract, and Chanelle works full time; We are trying to be artists and run WCCD in our free time. We also want to release a book, and have a residency coming up at Yorkshire Sculpture Park we will be releasing very soon.


Gatherings is showing at SET Woolwich until 17th August.

Make sure to collect your Yamos on the gowithYamo app when you visit!

Thanks for reading
Collect your 5 yamos below
REDEEM YAMOS
Celebrating the work of the Working Class Creatives Database (WCCD) with founder Seren Metcalfe
Written by
Sam Kan
Date Published
11/08/2023
With WCCD's exhibitions showing now at SET Woolwich, we sat down with founder and co-director Seren Metcalfe to discuss tackling inequality in the art world...
11/08/2023
Interviews
Sam Kan

Earlier this year Industria, in collaboration with a-n The Artists Information Company, published an enquiry into artists’ pay and conditions in the public sector, which revealed that the median hourly artist pay was £2.60 (spanning the period 2010-2022). No wonder, then, that being a financially successful artist is an occupation seemingly reserved for the wealthy. 

But this is not an issue born out of Tory-engineered austerity, or even more broadly 21st century late capitalism; throughout history, working class people have been excluded from enjoying art in different forms, or from being recognised for their contribution to culture. From the controlling patronage of artists by aristocrats in Western Europe during the Renaissance to the inaccessible designs of architects of Modernism, people without wealth have time and again been omitted from the making of culture and its histories. This issue feels most pertinent in Britain now, within the context of an increasingly market-driven “art world” and a suffocating cost of living crisis: it is virtually impossible to make a living as an artist without working multiple other jobs and/or external financial support. 

Enter the Working Class Creatives Database: founded in 2020 by Seren Metcalfe, WCCD is “a space that puts working class creatives at the forefront; a space for conversation, connections, and sharing of opportunities, skills, and knowledge”. The Database has three key aims: to create a community for working class creatives; to tackle classism; to provide a platform for working class creatives. This is vital work given the current financial situation for artists, as outlined by the Industria report. The Database is run by Metcalfe and co-director Chanelle Windas, although it is fundamentally reliant on community participation and there is a core group of members who help with the newsletter, residencies, and exhibitions. WCCD now has over 700 members and has been steadily growing its profile in the past three years, from Metcalfe and Windas being invited to talk at institutions across the UK to the Database hosting residencies with various organisations. In January 2023, the WCCD opened a group exhibition at 87 Gallery in Hull and in April an exhibition at Hypha Studios in London. On 4th August Gatherings opened at SET Woolwich (running until the 17th): the first show Metcalfe has curated for WCCD and the biggest the Database has staged so far with 28 of their members exhibiting.

The State in Which We Are, Kelly Wu, 2023 (Found objects installation)

The works in the exhibition cover all media and represent a huge range of working class identities. This is the immediately apparent success of the show: to demonstrate that a working class identity is not a homogenous entity but must be considered with greater nuance and through intersections with other minority identities. Martha Summers’ ‘TOOLbelt’, combining a strap-on harness and a tool belt, playfully examines the construction of a working class butch lesbian identity, and the role class plays in desire for all identities. Whilst Kelly Wu’s enchanting ‘The State in Which We Are’, an installation of found objects that overflows like a Sarah Sze sculpture, documents Wu’s Chinese mother’s hoarding: a reflection on identity constructed through material possessions. Metcalfe has observed how “within the art world working class iconography has become quite popular - the England flag, football shirts - work that is quite easy to digest” – indeed, a vision of working class people that easily slips into a - generally derogatory - stereotype. Gatherings steers clear of any such iconography or stereotype and instead shares a glimpse of the wealth of history and experience that a working class identity offers.

TOOLbelt, Martha Summers, 2022

Much of this richness comes from personal experience, poetically relayed here through art, such as in ‘My dad’s letter’ by Niamh Quigley: quite simply a letter Niamh’s dad gave her the day she moved to London, full of parental worry and love, displayed in a frame. The letter reveals the fear (‘Never go far at night – not worth it’) and hope (‘Aim high in life – why not’) of a parent sending their child to the capital, and their future life; a sentiment both universally relatable and born from the singular experience of growing up outside of a financially and culturally dominant centre.

My dad’s letter, Niamh Quigly

Some of the work can feel slightly underdeveloped, but it also feels entirely appropriate for the Database to support artists at all different stages in their practice without hierarchy: the inaccessibility of the “art world” often makes it impossible for artists to publicly share work and receive helpful feedback from others. If there is hope for a society in which being an artist is not depressingly inaccessible to those from lower socio-economic backgrounds, much of it can be found in the Database; WCCD has been founded when it’s needed most, and with ‘Gatherings’, it is now hitting its stride. 

We caught up with founder Seren Metcalfe to talk about ‘Gatherings’ and being working class in the “art world”:

How did this exhibition come about?

WCCD was a recipient of SET’s free space for community groups initiative, and we have hosted 8 residencies since 2021 for members who do not have access to a studio space. We wanted to begin by showcasing the work of the 8 creatives, and then we found a common theme with their works and made an open call to the wider WCCD group. We had found out we were successful with our application at a similar time to not being successful with Arts Council funding and I personally wanted to take on the project to prove that we could put on a professional show that was engaging to the community and the art world. WCCD is predominantly online, and for us it’s about gathering our community together. This exhibition brings creatives together from Sheffield, Newcastle, Scotland, Yorkshire, Nottingham, Birmingham, Scunthorpe, Essex, Redruth to name a few. When choosing the works, it felt like we were crows selecting gifts to bring back to our nest. It was a challenge bringing together 28 artists from across the UK to a very big industrial space in London especially because WCCD is volunteer-run - I had the help of Ross Hammond with installing the show but it was basically just us two.

How have you responded to the exhibition being at SET Woolwich?

It’s always been common for artists to use disused spaces – “meanwhile” spaces. This building is an ex-council building; SET are the cheapest artist studios in London and have over 1000 creatives. Since SET moved here in 2021 the landscape has changed drastically: a lot of high-rise flats, the Elizabeth line, a Marks & Spencer. It stands in stark difference to the original Woolwich high street: the exhibition space is mostly windows, and I didn’t want to ignore the stark difference between the high-rise apartments on one side of the building and the old high street on the other.

Also: what does it mean to have an exhibition in London when we have talked so much about having exhibitions in areas outside of London? It’s interesting how creatives feel we have to move to London for opportunities: when selecting artists over half said they were based in London. It was important for me to put where they were from and the majority ended up being from outside of the capital.

Do you feel that class is the most overlooked barrier within the art world?

Class is definitely the most overlooked barrier in the art world - not just being an artist but having a career in the arts - gallerist, curator, advisor. I think it begins with school. A lot of private schools have art history in addition to art, as well as an array of arts facilities - when moving on to university, you are already at a disadvantage. From my experience of attending university, I felt not very well read, I didn’t feel equipped for art conversations, and I felt my work was coming from more of a personal place than an aesthetic or academic one. I started the database because I was one of the few working class creatives on my course. I wanted to have a community of creatives that had similar experiences, that came from similar places.

What could change to make the art world a more inclusive space in terms of class?

I think we must start with education: the difference between those coming from private education and state schools. There needs to be more funding and focus on the arts within schools, after schools’ clubs, youth clubs etc. Also, we should look at the type of art people are exposed to when they're younger - if any at all. There's a very big difference between a commercial gallery in Mayfair and a gallery off the high street of Hull and I don’t think there should be. I also don’t think we are equipped for the business side of being an artist. It’s a massive financial risk for a working class person to become an artist; there's a lot more pressure on working class creatives to succeed. Within art schools, there should be support and education for becoming a freelancer and entering the art world.

From talking to people who attended private school and those who attended state school a topic that is discussed frequently is confidence. To be an artist you have to be confident in what you are creating and putting it out into the world. In state schools you are taught to be good enough to pass an exam to the lowest grade, but in private schools you are taught to achieve the highest. From discussions with database members many have or have considered giving up their art career.

There's also not the same support when leaving university: connections and nepotism are ways of accessing the art world. Most artists need a job to support their practice and I found that a lot of my friends were getting jobs in galleries, assisting artists because they were friends of their parents. For most working class creatives there's not that instant connection to the art world. How do we create careers for not just working class artists but working class curators and gallerists? As a database, we have tried to form these connections amongst each other. 

Who do you look up to? Who or what organisation do you find inspiring? 

I’d say there are not many people doing what we are doing - or not many that I am aware of. I think Arts Emergency is doing similar work by mentoring young people to get a fair start in the arts. I also think Make Bank is doing a great job providing disadvantaged high school pupils with art materials and resources. Guts Gallery is the only representation, I can think of, of a working class gallerist. Run The Check are also a great advertiser of creative jobs; Creative Access also advertise jobs for those underrepresented in the arts.

What’s next for the WCCD?

Currently, due to being unsuccessful with our funding, we are at a place where we have to consider how we operate. There’s so much enjoyment and benefits for the artists involved when we create these exhibitions and residencies, but we are now looking at sustainability. How can we sustain what we are doing as well as making sure we are creating long-lasting change within the art world? We are about to create a members’ survey to find out what our members want and need and that will determine our direction. Do we want to operate as a charity? A business? A gallery? We began as an Instagram page and our community has guided what we have become – it’s been very natural and fluid so now I think we have some important decisions to make. In the next few years, I hope we can get funding. I’m working a zero-hour contract, and Chanelle works full time; We are trying to be artists and run WCCD in our free time. We also want to release a book, and have a residency coming up at Yorkshire Sculpture Park we will be releasing very soon.


Gatherings is showing at SET Woolwich until 17th August.

Make sure to collect your Yamos on the gowithYamo app when you visit!

Thanks for reading
Collect your 5 yamos below
REDEEM YAMOS
Celebrating the work of the Working Class Creatives Database (WCCD) with founder Seren Metcalfe
Written by
Sam Kan
Date Published
11/08/2023
No items found.
11/08/2023
Interviews
Sam Kan
With WCCD's exhibitions showing now at SET Woolwich, we sat down with founder and co-director Seren Metcalfe to discuss tackling inequality in the art world...

Earlier this year Industria, in collaboration with a-n The Artists Information Company, published an enquiry into artists’ pay and conditions in the public sector, which revealed that the median hourly artist pay was £2.60 (spanning the period 2010-2022). No wonder, then, that being a financially successful artist is an occupation seemingly reserved for the wealthy. 

But this is not an issue born out of Tory-engineered austerity, or even more broadly 21st century late capitalism; throughout history, working class people have been excluded from enjoying art in different forms, or from being recognised for their contribution to culture. From the controlling patronage of artists by aristocrats in Western Europe during the Renaissance to the inaccessible designs of architects of Modernism, people without wealth have time and again been omitted from the making of culture and its histories. This issue feels most pertinent in Britain now, within the context of an increasingly market-driven “art world” and a suffocating cost of living crisis: it is virtually impossible to make a living as an artist without working multiple other jobs and/or external financial support. 

Enter the Working Class Creatives Database: founded in 2020 by Seren Metcalfe, WCCD is “a space that puts working class creatives at the forefront; a space for conversation, connections, and sharing of opportunities, skills, and knowledge”. The Database has three key aims: to create a community for working class creatives; to tackle classism; to provide a platform for working class creatives. This is vital work given the current financial situation for artists, as outlined by the Industria report. The Database is run by Metcalfe and co-director Chanelle Windas, although it is fundamentally reliant on community participation and there is a core group of members who help with the newsletter, residencies, and exhibitions. WCCD now has over 700 members and has been steadily growing its profile in the past three years, from Metcalfe and Windas being invited to talk at institutions across the UK to the Database hosting residencies with various organisations. In January 2023, the WCCD opened a group exhibition at 87 Gallery in Hull and in April an exhibition at Hypha Studios in London. On 4th August Gatherings opened at SET Woolwich (running until the 17th): the first show Metcalfe has curated for WCCD and the biggest the Database has staged so far with 28 of their members exhibiting.

The State in Which We Are, Kelly Wu, 2023 (Found objects installation)

The works in the exhibition cover all media and represent a huge range of working class identities. This is the immediately apparent success of the show: to demonstrate that a working class identity is not a homogenous entity but must be considered with greater nuance and through intersections with other minority identities. Martha Summers’ ‘TOOLbelt’, combining a strap-on harness and a tool belt, playfully examines the construction of a working class butch lesbian identity, and the role class plays in desire for all identities. Whilst Kelly Wu’s enchanting ‘The State in Which We Are’, an installation of found objects that overflows like a Sarah Sze sculpture, documents Wu’s Chinese mother’s hoarding: a reflection on identity constructed through material possessions. Metcalfe has observed how “within the art world working class iconography has become quite popular - the England flag, football shirts - work that is quite easy to digest” – indeed, a vision of working class people that easily slips into a - generally derogatory - stereotype. Gatherings steers clear of any such iconography or stereotype and instead shares a glimpse of the wealth of history and experience that a working class identity offers.

TOOLbelt, Martha Summers, 2022

Much of this richness comes from personal experience, poetically relayed here through art, such as in ‘My dad’s letter’ by Niamh Quigley: quite simply a letter Niamh’s dad gave her the day she moved to London, full of parental worry and love, displayed in a frame. The letter reveals the fear (‘Never go far at night – not worth it’) and hope (‘Aim high in life – why not’) of a parent sending their child to the capital, and their future life; a sentiment both universally relatable and born from the singular experience of growing up outside of a financially and culturally dominant centre.

My dad’s letter, Niamh Quigly

Some of the work can feel slightly underdeveloped, but it also feels entirely appropriate for the Database to support artists at all different stages in their practice without hierarchy: the inaccessibility of the “art world” often makes it impossible for artists to publicly share work and receive helpful feedback from others. If there is hope for a society in which being an artist is not depressingly inaccessible to those from lower socio-economic backgrounds, much of it can be found in the Database; WCCD has been founded when it’s needed most, and with ‘Gatherings’, it is now hitting its stride. 

We caught up with founder Seren Metcalfe to talk about ‘Gatherings’ and being working class in the “art world”:

How did this exhibition come about?

WCCD was a recipient of SET’s free space for community groups initiative, and we have hosted 8 residencies since 2021 for members who do not have access to a studio space. We wanted to begin by showcasing the work of the 8 creatives, and then we found a common theme with their works and made an open call to the wider WCCD group. We had found out we were successful with our application at a similar time to not being successful with Arts Council funding and I personally wanted to take on the project to prove that we could put on a professional show that was engaging to the community and the art world. WCCD is predominantly online, and for us it’s about gathering our community together. This exhibition brings creatives together from Sheffield, Newcastle, Scotland, Yorkshire, Nottingham, Birmingham, Scunthorpe, Essex, Redruth to name a few. When choosing the works, it felt like we were crows selecting gifts to bring back to our nest. It was a challenge bringing together 28 artists from across the UK to a very big industrial space in London especially because WCCD is volunteer-run - I had the help of Ross Hammond with installing the show but it was basically just us two.

How have you responded to the exhibition being at SET Woolwich?

It’s always been common for artists to use disused spaces – “meanwhile” spaces. This building is an ex-council building; SET are the cheapest artist studios in London and have over 1000 creatives. Since SET moved here in 2021 the landscape has changed drastically: a lot of high-rise flats, the Elizabeth line, a Marks & Spencer. It stands in stark difference to the original Woolwich high street: the exhibition space is mostly windows, and I didn’t want to ignore the stark difference between the high-rise apartments on one side of the building and the old high street on the other.

Also: what does it mean to have an exhibition in London when we have talked so much about having exhibitions in areas outside of London? It’s interesting how creatives feel we have to move to London for opportunities: when selecting artists over half said they were based in London. It was important for me to put where they were from and the majority ended up being from outside of the capital.

Do you feel that class is the most overlooked barrier within the art world?

Class is definitely the most overlooked barrier in the art world - not just being an artist but having a career in the arts - gallerist, curator, advisor. I think it begins with school. A lot of private schools have art history in addition to art, as well as an array of arts facilities - when moving on to university, you are already at a disadvantage. From my experience of attending university, I felt not very well read, I didn’t feel equipped for art conversations, and I felt my work was coming from more of a personal place than an aesthetic or academic one. I started the database because I was one of the few working class creatives on my course. I wanted to have a community of creatives that had similar experiences, that came from similar places.

What could change to make the art world a more inclusive space in terms of class?

I think we must start with education: the difference between those coming from private education and state schools. There needs to be more funding and focus on the arts within schools, after schools’ clubs, youth clubs etc. Also, we should look at the type of art people are exposed to when they're younger - if any at all. There's a very big difference between a commercial gallery in Mayfair and a gallery off the high street of Hull and I don’t think there should be. I also don’t think we are equipped for the business side of being an artist. It’s a massive financial risk for a working class person to become an artist; there's a lot more pressure on working class creatives to succeed. Within art schools, there should be support and education for becoming a freelancer and entering the art world.

From talking to people who attended private school and those who attended state school a topic that is discussed frequently is confidence. To be an artist you have to be confident in what you are creating and putting it out into the world. In state schools you are taught to be good enough to pass an exam to the lowest grade, but in private schools you are taught to achieve the highest. From discussions with database members many have or have considered giving up their art career.

There's also not the same support when leaving university: connections and nepotism are ways of accessing the art world. Most artists need a job to support their practice and I found that a lot of my friends were getting jobs in galleries, assisting artists because they were friends of their parents. For most working class creatives there's not that instant connection to the art world. How do we create careers for not just working class artists but working class curators and gallerists? As a database, we have tried to form these connections amongst each other. 

Who do you look up to? Who or what organisation do you find inspiring? 

I’d say there are not many people doing what we are doing - or not many that I am aware of. I think Arts Emergency is doing similar work by mentoring young people to get a fair start in the arts. I also think Make Bank is doing a great job providing disadvantaged high school pupils with art materials and resources. Guts Gallery is the only representation, I can think of, of a working class gallerist. Run The Check are also a great advertiser of creative jobs; Creative Access also advertise jobs for those underrepresented in the arts.

What’s next for the WCCD?

Currently, due to being unsuccessful with our funding, we are at a place where we have to consider how we operate. There’s so much enjoyment and benefits for the artists involved when we create these exhibitions and residencies, but we are now looking at sustainability. How can we sustain what we are doing as well as making sure we are creating long-lasting change within the art world? We are about to create a members’ survey to find out what our members want and need and that will determine our direction. Do we want to operate as a charity? A business? A gallery? We began as an Instagram page and our community has guided what we have become – it’s been very natural and fluid so now I think we have some important decisions to make. In the next few years, I hope we can get funding. I’m working a zero-hour contract, and Chanelle works full time; We are trying to be artists and run WCCD in our free time. We also want to release a book, and have a residency coming up at Yorkshire Sculpture Park we will be releasing very soon.


Gatherings is showing at SET Woolwich until 17th August.

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11/08/2023
Interviews
Sam Kan
Celebrating the work of the Working Class Creatives Database (WCCD) with founder Seren Metcalfe
With WCCD's exhibitions showing now at SET Woolwich, we sat down with founder and co-director Seren Metcalfe to discuss tackling inequality in the art world...

Earlier this year Industria, in collaboration with a-n The Artists Information Company, published an enquiry into artists’ pay and conditions in the public sector, which revealed that the median hourly artist pay was £2.60 (spanning the period 2010-2022). No wonder, then, that being a financially successful artist is an occupation seemingly reserved for the wealthy. 

But this is not an issue born out of Tory-engineered austerity, or even more broadly 21st century late capitalism; throughout history, working class people have been excluded from enjoying art in different forms, or from being recognised for their contribution to culture. From the controlling patronage of artists by aristocrats in Western Europe during the Renaissance to the inaccessible designs of architects of Modernism, people without wealth have time and again been omitted from the making of culture and its histories. This issue feels most pertinent in Britain now, within the context of an increasingly market-driven “art world” and a suffocating cost of living crisis: it is virtually impossible to make a living as an artist without working multiple other jobs and/or external financial support. 

Enter the Working Class Creatives Database: founded in 2020 by Seren Metcalfe, WCCD is “a space that puts working class creatives at the forefront; a space for conversation, connections, and sharing of opportunities, skills, and knowledge”. The Database has three key aims: to create a community for working class creatives; to tackle classism; to provide a platform for working class creatives. This is vital work given the current financial situation for artists, as outlined by the Industria report. The Database is run by Metcalfe and co-director Chanelle Windas, although it is fundamentally reliant on community participation and there is a core group of members who help with the newsletter, residencies, and exhibitions. WCCD now has over 700 members and has been steadily growing its profile in the past three years, from Metcalfe and Windas being invited to talk at institutions across the UK to the Database hosting residencies with various organisations. In January 2023, the WCCD opened a group exhibition at 87 Gallery in Hull and in April an exhibition at Hypha Studios in London. On 4th August Gatherings opened at SET Woolwich (running until the 17th): the first show Metcalfe has curated for WCCD and the biggest the Database has staged so far with 28 of their members exhibiting.

The State in Which We Are, Kelly Wu, 2023 (Found objects installation)

The works in the exhibition cover all media and represent a huge range of working class identities. This is the immediately apparent success of the show: to demonstrate that a working class identity is not a homogenous entity but must be considered with greater nuance and through intersections with other minority identities. Martha Summers’ ‘TOOLbelt’, combining a strap-on harness and a tool belt, playfully examines the construction of a working class butch lesbian identity, and the role class plays in desire for all identities. Whilst Kelly Wu’s enchanting ‘The State in Which We Are’, an installation of found objects that overflows like a Sarah Sze sculpture, documents Wu’s Chinese mother’s hoarding: a reflection on identity constructed through material possessions. Metcalfe has observed how “within the art world working class iconography has become quite popular - the England flag, football shirts - work that is quite easy to digest” – indeed, a vision of working class people that easily slips into a - generally derogatory - stereotype. Gatherings steers clear of any such iconography or stereotype and instead shares a glimpse of the wealth of history and experience that a working class identity offers.

TOOLbelt, Martha Summers, 2022

Much of this richness comes from personal experience, poetically relayed here through art, such as in ‘My dad’s letter’ by Niamh Quigley: quite simply a letter Niamh’s dad gave her the day she moved to London, full of parental worry and love, displayed in a frame. The letter reveals the fear (‘Never go far at night – not worth it’) and hope (‘Aim high in life – why not’) of a parent sending their child to the capital, and their future life; a sentiment both universally relatable and born from the singular experience of growing up outside of a financially and culturally dominant centre.

My dad’s letter, Niamh Quigly

Some of the work can feel slightly underdeveloped, but it also feels entirely appropriate for the Database to support artists at all different stages in their practice without hierarchy: the inaccessibility of the “art world” often makes it impossible for artists to publicly share work and receive helpful feedback from others. If there is hope for a society in which being an artist is not depressingly inaccessible to those from lower socio-economic backgrounds, much of it can be found in the Database; WCCD has been founded when it’s needed most, and with ‘Gatherings’, it is now hitting its stride. 

We caught up with founder Seren Metcalfe to talk about ‘Gatherings’ and being working class in the “art world”:

How did this exhibition come about?

WCCD was a recipient of SET’s free space for community groups initiative, and we have hosted 8 residencies since 2021 for members who do not have access to a studio space. We wanted to begin by showcasing the work of the 8 creatives, and then we found a common theme with their works and made an open call to the wider WCCD group. We had found out we were successful with our application at a similar time to not being successful with Arts Council funding and I personally wanted to take on the project to prove that we could put on a professional show that was engaging to the community and the art world. WCCD is predominantly online, and for us it’s about gathering our community together. This exhibition brings creatives together from Sheffield, Newcastle, Scotland, Yorkshire, Nottingham, Birmingham, Scunthorpe, Essex, Redruth to name a few. When choosing the works, it felt like we were crows selecting gifts to bring back to our nest. It was a challenge bringing together 28 artists from across the UK to a very big industrial space in London especially because WCCD is volunteer-run - I had the help of Ross Hammond with installing the show but it was basically just us two.

How have you responded to the exhibition being at SET Woolwich?

It’s always been common for artists to use disused spaces – “meanwhile” spaces. This building is an ex-council building; SET are the cheapest artist studios in London and have over 1000 creatives. Since SET moved here in 2021 the landscape has changed drastically: a lot of high-rise flats, the Elizabeth line, a Marks & Spencer. It stands in stark difference to the original Woolwich high street: the exhibition space is mostly windows, and I didn’t want to ignore the stark difference between the high-rise apartments on one side of the building and the old high street on the other.

Also: what does it mean to have an exhibition in London when we have talked so much about having exhibitions in areas outside of London? It’s interesting how creatives feel we have to move to London for opportunities: when selecting artists over half said they were based in London. It was important for me to put where they were from and the majority ended up being from outside of the capital.

Do you feel that class is the most overlooked barrier within the art world?

Class is definitely the most overlooked barrier in the art world - not just being an artist but having a career in the arts - gallerist, curator, advisor. I think it begins with school. A lot of private schools have art history in addition to art, as well as an array of arts facilities - when moving on to university, you are already at a disadvantage. From my experience of attending university, I felt not very well read, I didn’t feel equipped for art conversations, and I felt my work was coming from more of a personal place than an aesthetic or academic one. I started the database because I was one of the few working class creatives on my course. I wanted to have a community of creatives that had similar experiences, that came from similar places.

What could change to make the art world a more inclusive space in terms of class?

I think we must start with education: the difference between those coming from private education and state schools. There needs to be more funding and focus on the arts within schools, after schools’ clubs, youth clubs etc. Also, we should look at the type of art people are exposed to when they're younger - if any at all. There's a very big difference between a commercial gallery in Mayfair and a gallery off the high street of Hull and I don’t think there should be. I also don’t think we are equipped for the business side of being an artist. It’s a massive financial risk for a working class person to become an artist; there's a lot more pressure on working class creatives to succeed. Within art schools, there should be support and education for becoming a freelancer and entering the art world.

From talking to people who attended private school and those who attended state school a topic that is discussed frequently is confidence. To be an artist you have to be confident in what you are creating and putting it out into the world. In state schools you are taught to be good enough to pass an exam to the lowest grade, but in private schools you are taught to achieve the highest. From discussions with database members many have or have considered giving up their art career.

There's also not the same support when leaving university: connections and nepotism are ways of accessing the art world. Most artists need a job to support their practice and I found that a lot of my friends were getting jobs in galleries, assisting artists because they were friends of their parents. For most working class creatives there's not that instant connection to the art world. How do we create careers for not just working class artists but working class curators and gallerists? As a database, we have tried to form these connections amongst each other. 

Who do you look up to? Who or what organisation do you find inspiring? 

I’d say there are not many people doing what we are doing - or not many that I am aware of. I think Arts Emergency is doing similar work by mentoring young people to get a fair start in the arts. I also think Make Bank is doing a great job providing disadvantaged high school pupils with art materials and resources. Guts Gallery is the only representation, I can think of, of a working class gallerist. Run The Check are also a great advertiser of creative jobs; Creative Access also advertise jobs for those underrepresented in the arts.

What’s next for the WCCD?

Currently, due to being unsuccessful with our funding, we are at a place where we have to consider how we operate. There’s so much enjoyment and benefits for the artists involved when we create these exhibitions and residencies, but we are now looking at sustainability. How can we sustain what we are doing as well as making sure we are creating long-lasting change within the art world? We are about to create a members’ survey to find out what our members want and need and that will determine our direction. Do we want to operate as a charity? A business? A gallery? We began as an Instagram page and our community has guided what we have become – it’s been very natural and fluid so now I think we have some important decisions to make. In the next few years, I hope we can get funding. I’m working a zero-hour contract, and Chanelle works full time; We are trying to be artists and run WCCD in our free time. We also want to release a book, and have a residency coming up at Yorkshire Sculpture Park we will be releasing very soon.


Gatherings is showing at SET Woolwich until 17th August.

Make sure to collect your Yamos on the gowithYamo app when you visit!

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