Past Project 2019 2020

Assist provided up to £3,700 to help artists from under-represented backgrounds find work assisting more established artists. The project ended in March 2020.

Assist was a pilot project to connect artist-assistants from backgrounds under-represented in the arts with more experienced artists who need support at a key moment in their practice. Artquest supported three artists to employ an assistant and contribute up to £3,700 toward their fees, set at above the London Living Wage.

Participants were:

Rachel Ara (artist-employer) and Kate Howard (artist-assistant)

Barby Asante (artist-employer) and Rayvenn D’Clark (artist-assistant)

Erika Tan (artist-employer) and Yuxin Jiang (artist-assistant)

About the pilot

Artquest funded £3,700 of fees for artist-assistants, who will work up to 48 days over a period of six months, with artist-employers contributing to fees.

This project was intended to support artist-assistants from working class and / or minority ethnic backgrounds to sustain a career in the arts, and to support artists with a minimum of ten years’ practice at a transformative moment in their practice.

Assist intended to support artists at a ‘transformative stage in their career’, such as receiving a major commission, a first solo exhibition at a publicly-funded gallery, or another large-scale project outside their previous experience. Such an opportunity will be likely to come with a budget – either one the artist has applied for, or from a commissioner / gallery etc, and we are asking for a contribution to help support assistant fees. It can also support artists who are facing major life-changing episodes in their health or caring responsibilities, and in exceptional circumstances Artquest paid 100% of the assistant fee.

Artquest developed Assist through 18 months of research, focus groups and reflecting on our project management experience. As we found no similar project during this research period, and there were no models for us to emulate, Assist came with a low but real risk of failure. Artists had to be flexible, work with us collaboratively, and feed back to us about how the project is progressing in an open manner.

Findings from this pilot programme will feed into a report (originally due April 2020) about the needs of artists at a key moment in their careers and strengthen understanding of alternative, non-academic routes into the arts specifically for artists under-represented in the art world. Should the project prove successful, we intend to continue and improve it in future years.

Due to the covid-19 / coronavirus pandemic lockdown and the need to refocus our resources on emergency support projects, the final report has been delayed and will be published later in the autumn.

Why was this project needed?

The arts workforce, particularly in London, fails to reflect the capital’s social and cultural diversity. The 2018 report, Panic! It’s an Arts Emergency, highlighted that only 4.8% of the music, performing and visual arts workforce were from minority ethnic backgrounds (who make up 40% of the London population) and 18.2% were from working class backgrounds (around 22% of the UK population). A lack of defined, paid roles and alternative routes into the sector contributes to this situation.

Artists who work as an artist-assistant can earn an income while learning more about how the art world operates and build new networks. Research commissioned by Artquest in 2017-18 found hardly any guidance on working as, or employing, an assistant, and that such appointments tend to be from an artist’s immediate social network. There is no single definition of what an artist-assistant does, and wide variation in pay and conditions. Artists report needing extra help at a transformative stage in their career, such as receiving a major commission, a first solo exhibition at a publicly-funded gallery, or another large-scale project outside their previous experience. Assistants are often recruited through word-of-mouth, compounding the lack of sector diversity and development opportunities for a broader workforce; artists struggle to understand how to employ people legally, ethically and responsibly, perpetuating poor practices.

To address this, the Assist programme:

  • Helped artists at a pivotal moment in their careers to find an assistant, and advise them on how to employ people
  • Helped less-established artists from backgrounds under-represented in the arts to earn money, build networks, and understand how the art world works at a more senior level
  • Tested the viability of continuing the programme in future and report on our findings