By Robin Steedman
Creative work is filled with uncertainty. Creatives have no way of knowing if their films will be watched, their songs downloaded, or their pictures liked. Instead they have to send their artworks out into the world with the hope they will find an audience.
Adding to this artistic uncertainty—which has arguably always been a condition of artistic production—is the job uncertainty creatives face. Creative work is frequently defined by unstable and precarious conditions including insecure contracts and low pay, and a range of affective conditions that go along with this including anxiety and burnout.
So how do creatives navigate these precarious and difficult conditions? How do they build their futures in circumstances where instability is unlikely to end?
In our research about creative workers in Accra, which has recently been published in the academic Journal Environment and Planning A: Economy and Space, we found the answer to these questions is the work of hope.
A Hopeful mode of being
Hope is a mode of being in the world. That is, hopefulness is a disposition or a fundamental way of approaching the word. We saw this for example in the words of Miriam,* a star singer, who was very hopeful for the music industry in Accra even while the industry was currently lacking infrastructure:
“The system here is not strong – it’s not in place for so many things to happen. But I started ﬁve years ago and since I started I can see it’s changing gradually. [...] I’m very hopeful [...] there is light at the end of the tunnel.”
This hopeful orientation was present in all our respondents. This hope was not passive, but rather was put to work proactively by creatives as they built their desired brighter futures. Hope was revealed in three ways: hustling, waiting, and spiritualizing.
Hustling, waiting, and spiritualizing
Hustling is an entrepreneurial strategy for navigating precarious and unstable environments in order to make a living. Hustling in the creative industries in Accra meant approaching work and life in an entrepreneurial way. For example, creatives diversified their businesses to make sure they always had multiple revenue streams.
One designer, Paula, had a fashion business as well as one selling fresh fish so she could use the businesses to mutually support each other in case one “goes down.” Other creatives worked across multiple genres or types of artistic practices to ensure they had a steady audience and income. They took matters into their own hands in the face of uncertainty and actively looked for ways to create positive outcomes.
These creatives also were strategic about when not to act. For example, one high-end fashion brand deliberately did not take an opportunity to enter a fashion store in Nigeria because they did not feel they were ready. Instead, they strategically waiting to enter the Nigerian market.
Likewise, actor Sandra struggled to find work acting but instead of “sitting at home doing nothing”, as she put it, she developed a “meantime business” buying and selling beauty and fashion products. She hoped to one day merge her two ventures—acting and trading—in the form of a movie production company. She did not passively hope for the future to get better, instead, she hustled in the meantime to secure the future she wanted.
A final hopeful strategy was spiritualizing. Many creatives turned to prayer. As Edward, a painter, said: “When I’m about to paint I pray, and when I ﬁnish I pray. When I put it in my studio, I pray to God and ask God to bring a particular customer for this particular painting.” Many also turned to witchcraft. Paula, a fashion designer, thought: “In this environment it’s a hobby for people to go into witchcraft, especially if you make it as a fashion designer.” So she sought to guard her creative businesses from the malicious intentions of bad actors who would use witchcraft to harm her.
Creatives in Accra navigate the uncertainty of their environment through these hopeful strategies of work. Creatives and creative industry policy makers have much to learn from them: overcoming precarity is not a pre-condition for a good creative life. Hopeful work is.
You can find our full study here:
Alacovska A, Langevang T and Steedman R (2020) The work of hope: Spiritualizing, hustling and waiting in the creative industries in Ghana. Environment and Planning A: Economy and Space. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1177/0308518X20962810.
This research was made possible by a grant awarded by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Denmark project no. 18-05-CBS (Advancing Creative Industries for Development in Ghana).
*all names have been changed to protect the privacy of research participants.