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Event: Equity in the Creative Industries
By Fabian Cannizzo
Posted: 2024-01-17T20:35:40Z

Equity in the Creative Industries: A Work, Labour & Economy Thematic Group Symposium, Western Sydney University, 27th November 2023: Event Report


Hosts: Dr Sheree Gregory, Dr Fabian Cannizzo & Dr Yinghua Yu


Attendees: Dr Ben Eltham, Dr Xin Gu, Dr Sam Whiting, Steph Daughtry, Dr Michael Scott, Associate Professor Tully Barnett, Professor Deb Verhoeven, Dr Louise Ingersoll, & Associate Professor Catherine Strong


Equity in the Creative Industries


The Labor Government’s National Cultural Policy - Revive has again brought the issue of equitable access to cultural and creative work to the fore of public debate (Commonwealth of Australia 2023). Creative practices from music performance, to film and television production, to cultural events and the arts, have been subject to structural transformations through digitalisation (Hughes et al. 2016) and the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic (Strong & Cannizzo 2020; Pennington & Eltham 2021). While previous governments had framed the value of creative and cultural work in term of ‘creative industries’ (Banks & O’Connor 2009; Flew & Cunningham 2010), recent research has re-focussed political will on the equity, diversity and inclusiveness of these economic sectors (Screen Australia 2016; Support Act 2022). Moreover, despite the implementation of the Gender Matters gender equality policy by Screen Australia since 2015, by 2020 women’s participation continues to be very low. Whether expressed as precariousness, invisibility, inflexibility, or intersectional disadvantage, the creative industries continue to be sites of inequalities in search of an adequate policy response and long-term change.


Now is a timely moment to account for the equitability of Australia’s cultural and creative industries. Companies, freelancers, consumers and governments all have a role in helping to shape, connect and support a diverse workforce and sector.



Though a somewhat contentious concept, the idea of “creative industries”, composed of both diverse gatekeepers and small-scale entrepreneurs, has captured the imagination of researchers and activists alike, seeking to bring attention to the inequities facing cultural workers. To place a focus on fostering equitable policy interventions in creative and cultural work, the Work, Labour & Economy thematic group hosted a symposium titled ‘Equity in the Creative Industries’ in November 2023 at the Institute for Culture and Society (ICS) at Western Sydney University. The event was attended in a mixed mode, with four online attendees. The aim of this symposium was to foster a community of scholarship around the topic of equity in cultural work, and to contribute to a special issue of the Journal of Sociology on the topic, to be published in 2025. The symposium was made possible through the financial support of TASA and the ICS, to which the convenors give their thanks.


New Policy Directions on the Horizon


The symposium was attended by cultural and creative industry researchers working on a diversity of industry sectors, from music, to the screen industry and independent filmmakers, to the virtual production workforce, and arts and culture workers in the broader sense. Despite this diversity, a common thread of addressing social inequalities through a reconsideration of policy interventions was woven through the day’s presentations and discussions.



The first session focused on the experiences and means of addressing economic inequalities in creative work. Fabian Cannizzo began with a presentation on “A Basic Income for Creative Justice”, drawing on a study of music industry workers in the aftermath of the first COVID-19 lockdowns in Victoria (Strong & Cannizzo 2020) to explore the potential role of a Basic Income for Artist or Universal Basic Income in supporting a just creative sector. This was followed up by Sam Whiting and Steph Daughtry’s presentation on “The Role of Non-Arts Funding in Funding the Arts”, which explores the diversity of funding sources that artists seek out to promote what Pierre Bourdieu (1990) described as ‘skhole’ - practically, unimpeded time to pursue one’s work. They argue that a Basic Income of some form may be substituted for ad-hoc forms of income support (i.e. ‘the Dole’, unemployment insurance, PhD stipends, etc.) in the future. Michael Scott concluded the first session with his exploration of “Involuted Labour in the Creative Industries”, in which he explored how the recent growth within the creative industries can be partially attributed to ‘the internal over-elaboration of a basic pattern rather than transformation to a new form of work’, or forms of ‘involution’ (Geertz 1969). That is, creative workers intensify labour-time, job-split, and keep informal networks ready to launch into precarious, project-based roles.



The second session focused on the experience of being a cultural worker in the contemporary economy. Louise Ingersoll started the session through her analysis of “The Realities of Precariousness on Labour Mobility for Independent Filmmakers in the Australian Screen Industry”. Building on interviews with 24 Australian independent filmmakers, she outlined how the costs of being ‘on location’, expectation of mobility, and seeking career opportunities shapes the precarity they report. The session developed through back-to-back presentations by Ben Eltham, on behalf of two independent research teams. Firstly, he described his research on “The Organisation and Experience of Identity Work in the Screen Industry” in Australia. Through exploring how camera crew experience self-perception and ‘meta-perception’ (i.e. how we believe others see us), he and his team offer a critique of policy initiatives aimed at ‘self-improvement’, as the sense of self of marginalised groups, as they fail to acknowledge the variable experience of identity dissonance of such groups. Secondly, Ben Eltham presented reflection on the “Political Economy of Cultural Labour Markets”. His team explores how the ‘inequality, insecurity, precarity and poor quality work’ reported in current research differentially impacts marginalised and advantaged societal groups, and the role that policy architecture can play in these effects through comparing policies in Australia, Canada and Singapore.



The final session focussed on the gendered structures that shape creative workforces. Sheree Gregory led the session through her examination of “Gender, Work and the Creative Industries” through a study centred on women in the film industries. Drawing from a major review of international research and industry data sets, her study identified barriers and issues surrounding women’s participation in cultural sectors, identifying traditional gender norms as an ongoing concern for the participation of women in film industries. Tully Barnett concluded the symposium’s presentation with her team’s overview of the issues facing “Women and Gender Diverse People in the Virtual Production Workforce”. They explore the experiences of gender diverse virtual production workers to explore how the sector can provide support for breaking cycles of discrimination, comparing the relatively under researched virtual production sector with Screen Australia’s (2015) analysis of the more traditional screen industries.



On reflection, discussions of equity in creative industries and cultural sector policy were diverse in recommendations and strategies for change, but common in the issues driving the call for reforms. Income inequality, gendered biases, ableism, racialised and ethnic privilege, and the deep investment that cultural workers make in their art forms were at the forefront of the day’s discussions. It is hoped that through collaboration and the development of the Journal of Sociology special issue on ‘Equity in the Creative Industries’, the variety of research on equity can find a common project for policy development and improvement of the lives of creative and cultural workers. Such work is ongoing.




Banks, M & O’Connor, J (2009) ‘After the creative industries’, International Journal of Cultural Policy, 15(4):365-373.

Bourdieu, P (1990) ‘The scholastic point of view’, Cultural Anthropology, 5(4):380-391.

Commonwealth of Australia (2023) National cultural policy—revive: A place for every story, a story for every place, Canberra, Commonwealth of Australia, accessed 20 May 2023.

Flew, T & Cunningham, S (2010) ‘Creative industries after the first decade of debate’, The Information Society, 26(2):113-123.

Geertz, C (1969) Agricultural involution: The process of ecological change in Indonesia, University of California Press, Oakland, CA.

Hughes D, Evans M, Morrow G & Keith S (2016) The new music industries: Disruption and discovery, London, Palgrave Macmillan.

Pennington A & Eltham B (2021) Creativity in crisis: Rebooting Australia’s arts and entertainment sector after COVID, Canberra, Centre for Future Work, The Australia Institute, accessed 20 May 2023.

Screen Australia (2015) Gender Matters: Women in the Australian Screen Industry, November, accessed 21 May 2023.

Screen Australia (2016) Seeing ourselves: Reflections on diversity in Australian TV drama, Ultimo, NSW, Screen Australia, accessed 20 May 2023.

Strong C & Cannizzo F (2020) Understanding challenges to the Victorian music industry during COVID-19, report, Melbourne, RMIT University, accessed 20 May 2023.

Support Act (2022) Raising their voices, Surrey Hills, NSW, Support Act, accessed 20 May 2023.

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