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A new club is being launched for people who work in the UK art scene and are from lower socioeconomic backgrounds. Called Working Arts Club, the London-based club is founded by Meg Molloy, who is the head of communications at Stephen Friedman Gallery. The independent organisation is “for bringing people together, networking, hosting events, socialising and more,” says the online form for those who wish to register their interest in joining. Since the new group was announced on LinkedIn and Instagram on 24 May, hundreds of people have signed up.

Molloy, who is from Margate and personally identifies as being from a lower socioeconomic background, says the idea for the club came from casual conversations on the subject with friends and peers. “I had been thinking for some time that there was something missing for people in galleries who were from lower socioeconomic backgrounds,” she says. “There are some support networks out there, but nothing seemed to cover what I was looking for, and some are too expensive to join.”

According to a 2018 report by Create London and Arts Emergency, around 18.2% of people in the arts in Great Britain are from working-class backgrounds. A somewhat contentious term, “working class background” is defined by the UK government as those whose parents held technical and craft occupations; routine, semi-routine manual and service occupations; or were long-term unemployed. Many prefer the somewhat interchangeable phrase “low socioeconomic background”. Molloy says that the term is more personal and self-defined: “It might be in relation to where you came from and how much money you had growing up, but it’s also so much more than that. We’re open minded and understand that there are complexities associated with how you perceive your social positioning.”

Talking about class remains a taboo in today’s art world, which is still dominated by people from privileged backgrounds as discussed in a recent article in The Art Newspaper. Molloy believes that being working class in the art world can therefore feel isolating. “Whether it’s not knowing anyone at a swanky private view, having a certain accent, or having different reference points to colleagues, it’s possible to feel that you don’t belong,” she says. “I want to connect people to help build strong relationships, create dialogue, facilitate and find ways to educate and aid our community.”

Laura Gosney, a press manager for visual arts at London’s Southbank Centre says she has eagerly signed up for the Working Arts Club. “I am really excited to meet others from backgrounds similar to mine who work in the arts and hear their stories,” she says. Gosney, who grew up on a rural farm before moving to London to study and work, says she has often hidden her background from peers.

“The art world can feel almost impenetrable at times for those who didn’t float in upper class circles growing up, or who didn’t go to private school. Even at public galleries, guests and connections can feel very cliquey,” Gosney says. “At one private view, at which I felt particularly uncomfortable amongst guests, I remember saying that I came from a countryside estate instead of a working farm—not because I’m ashamed of it in any way, quite the opposite, but because I was so desperate to feel like I belonged there. I can’t count how many times I’ve made my accent sound more upper class, or that I’ve come home to my partner and cried about not feeling like I fit in.”

While she believes her working class background has taught her a lot of the skills needed to succeed in the industry—such as hard work, perseverance and drive—she also argues that more support is needed. “I am confident that the Working Arts Club will make a real impact and change in the industry, and I want to use my experience and knowledge to help Meg’s mission wherever I can,” she adds.

the Working Arts Club is due to hold an official launch event this summer and Molloy is currently looking for collaborators. “Our first meet up needs a venue and some sponsorship. Our plans are ambitious and we’re going to need support to make things happen,” she says. In the future, Molloy hopes to expand the club’s outreach. “Something I’d really like to do is to go to schools and other learning environments to open up conversations about working in the arts. I wish someone had done that when I was at school,” she says. “Letting young people know that there’s an art world out there, that jobs like mine exist, that there are options. I think it’s so important, particularly in today’s political climate.”

UPDATE 7 June: The club changed its name from Arts and Graft to Working Arts Club. We have amended the article to reflect this.

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