Members of the Database
Seren Metcalfe is the young creative set on tackling classism within the art world. Her own art school experience cast a harsh light on the way in which the working class experience is one that goes largely underrepresented within art and encouraged her to create the Working Class Creatives Database as a response.
Coming from a working class background herself, Seren is aware of the importance of carving out spaces for working class creatives and fighting against art world elitism. She notes how, "It’s an interesting one to navigate because for me I want to create work that is truthful and based on my own experience but if the only people buying into that experience are those from a higher class then they’re essentially buying a working class experience."
If you want to find out more about Seren and the database we caught up with Seren to talk about her experiences as a working class creative, creating the Working Class Creatives Database and the challenges faced by working class creatives!
Hey Seren! It is a well-known fact that creatives from working class backgrounds receive little to no support or representation in the creative industries, when did you first realise this as a working class creative yourself? What has been your experience as a working class creative?
Hello! Thanks for giving me this opportunity. I moved from York to London to start my BA at the Slade School of Art which was such an amazing experience; one I’m incredibly grateful for. But throughout the four years I couldn’t help but feel the imposter syndrome. There were a lot of un relatable moments for me. I wasn’t very “well read” or connected, I was the first in my family to attend university and one of the only people in the school with a regional accent. I realised that the process in which I made work was relational to class meaning it was hard for others to relate to it that weren't from a similar class background. The Database was created out of a need to bring together a community of creatives that would usually be overlooked in the arts and provide a support network, connections, and exposure. Creating a space within the creative worlds for Working Class people and trying to make the elitist bubbles more accessible.
Have you ever felt as if the artworld was not designed for you because of your background?
A big realisation for me was that it's really only rich people who buy art. My family is all about the live laugh love cushions that hang on door handles which kinda seems worlds away from the homes of art buyers and collectors. I realised that if I want to make money as an artist, I’m gonna be making work for rich people; I’m creating this investable product. Art is so ingrained in culture too which adds to this cultural capital of class and poses questions of how accessible contemporary art is. Which makes me think that in order to change the art world we have to ask questions about who buys the art we make and who runs the galleries the art is in? How can we make buying and viewing art more accessible to the working classes? What is it that needs to change?
Had you met many other working class creatives before starting the database?
When I started the database, I could feel the energy rising from social media of Working Class Voices. I showed work with WANK collective which is a brill collective of working class creatives and through them I met a lot more like-minded people who wanted to see similar changes. There were also a lot of other groups pushing for change on Instagram which I was in contact with and through making the database our voices feel like they're being heard. There is a real energy at the moment for young creatives wanting to make a space for ourselves and I think it’s really exciting. There were also a few people on my course from Working class backgrounds and for me I felt like they were the ones making the most personal, vulnerable and truthful work.
As I said earlier, it is a well known fact that there is little working class representation, yet there is little change within the industry. What do you think we can do - as young creatives actively seeking change - to help create a more equal path for working class creatives?
Share our open letter, ask the questions no one is asking, use the database, actively seek to work with working class people, just open up the conversation really! Also get out of the Art school ego and collaborate and skill share with each other.
By creating the database, what did you hope to achieve?
The aim of this database is to facilitate a space that puts working-class creatives at the forefront. In the long term, I want the database to have contributed to making creative industries and creative university courses for everyone, not just those who come from privilege.
What do you think is the biggest challenge faced by working class creatives looking to get into the industry?
It can be really difficult when you haven’t had previous experience/ haven’t had the resources to add paid courses or volunteering roles to your CV. On the database I created a supporters highlight/ page which basically means people can volunteer their time to host a workshop, give advice or share skills with working class creatives which will hopefully help them within their creative industry and provide them with connections they might not have had otherwise.
What has the reception to the database been like so far?
It’s been really lovely, and it’s definitely made me realise how much something like the WCCD was needed. The database now has 130+ members and these members have now volunteered to help me run it, which is incredible, so we now have a core group of people working on keeping it running and pushing for change! It can only get bigger from here!
What would be your advice to working class creatives looking to enter their respective industries?
One thing I've realised is the difference in confidence in people from private school and state school. The main thing people seem to be paying for is this engrained confidence within their child to believe they can do anything and a lot of working class people that I’ve met (including myself) have very low confidence in themselves and their work. My advice would be to be confident in yourself and your abilities and to find networks of people like you that share your experience. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Speak up because your voice is important and needs to be heard! And join the database!!
P.s. Hierarchy doesn’t exist, and academic writing is BS! :)