I am a freelance professional art technician and art handler. I used to work all over the world for arts institutions of all sizes, private collectors, commercial galleries and directly for artists. On 17 March I found that overnight my complex schedule of work for the rest of the year had been cancelled, my world locked down and I felt a great deal of uncertainty for what lay ahead. Many mention that we are living in unprecedented times but this term just didn’t seem to capture the fear that struck me as I began to realise that my world, life and career would never be the same.
I have been working as a freelance art technician for the past 3 years and have over 12 years’ experience in this field. My livelihood depends on working on art exhibitions, with art collections and cultural events. With the closures of cultural venues I became well aware that many of us freelance art technicians were going to experience extreme hardship due to this loss of income and employment.
Sarah Titheridge, Martina Schmuecker and I decided to respond to the Covid-19 crisis by creating the Art Technician Emergency Fund to raise money and provide short-term relief to our colleagues and friends in the industry who had lost all of their work and are suffering financially. Art Technicians are the backbone of the art and museum world. We love our work, and most of us go above and beyond in working for artists and institutions. Due to the precarious nature of the work art technicians do, work is sporadic. Most people work from pay cheque to pay cheque and there is no financial stopgap. Although the government set up some financial aid for the self-employed, this only helped a small percentage of art technicians. Many of us fell through the gaps and were reliant on universal credit or any arts grants that we might be eligible for.
We asked all those back in March who signed up to the fund when they anticipated experiencing financial hardship and the result was staggering.
So we created an online art auction, spent many, many hours contacting artists to collate artwork donations and calling out for freelance art technicians to sign up to receive financial support. The auction was live for 4 weeks during which we did everything we could to raise awareness and help to see the bids roll in. We were fortunate enough to be selected to sell a collection of 2020 Solidarity (12 artist) posters funded by an organisation, Between Bridges, founded by Wolfgang Tillmans. This was an incredible boast to our auction and 4 weeks later we had a huge success.
We managed to raise a total of £26,100 which was paid out to 55 applicants. That means we were able to pay each art technician applying to the fund about £474. Just over 100 Artists – 104 to be precise – donated 145 artworks, and we managed to get 79 successful bids for those artworks. We also had the wonderful support from Between Bridges, and sold 169 2020 Solidarity Posters through the auction at £50 each, and lastly we had 13 individual donations of various amounts, coming to £2115.
We were elated to be selected for this New Art West Midlands Engine Micro Bursary which provided us with £250 to help towards much of the administration, marketing and publicising costs which all contributed to enabling us to raise such a large sum of money to help a great deal of art technicians out.
This collective generosity made a substantial difference to many people who are really struggling right now. It has given our industry as a whole a boost to know so many people were willing to donate to the fund via artwork donations or the purchasing of artwork to support them in this crisis. We hope that this fundraising initiative can in a small way contribute to giving art technicians more visibility in the arts, and show the importance of this profession for the cultural sector.
It will be a long road ahead for a lot of us technicians and art workers, as most of the institutions and galleries we work for are looking to cut costs on all levels. So far most of us have no news of any work available in the months ahead.
Follow us on Instagram @arttechnicianemergencyfund and help us raise even more next time to help support art workers and technicians.