Anne-Marie Quigg on Art Bullies

A new book from Gower Publishing uncovers the seedy underbelly of art bullies

When Belfast-born artist and arts consultant Anne-Marie Quigg experienced bullying in the workplace, she didn’t just get out – she got writing. ‘I needed to understand what had happened,’ Quigg says.

Her book, Bullying in the Arts: Vocation, Exploitation and Abuse of Power, the product of ten years doctoral work at City University, London, has recently been published by Gower Publishing.

Quigg shies away from the details of her own experience with bullying. ‘It left me feeling very low,’ she explains quietly. ‘It was hard for me, and for other people I interviewed, to admit to being bullied as an adult. It is depressing and you wonder if it is your fault. The book helped me get perspective.’

Studies into workplace bullying in the public sector have been conducted quite frequently (in the police, the NHS and even the Church of England, for example). Quigg is the first researcher to apply her study to the cultural sector.

What she found was that two out of five arts professionals have reported experiencing bullying during their career. That is 40%, a higher rate than any of the other studies carried out. Why? Quigg can’t put her finger on one discrete cause, but notes two factors that she believes contribute greatly.

One is the myth of the ‘artistic temperament’, the idea that significant creative ability goes hand in hand with, and also pardons, bad behaviour. Quigg points out the stereotypical abusive conductor, whose bullying of the orchestra is excused on the grounds that it creates something beautiful.

Quigg argues that abuse isn’t a prerequisite of creativity. She acknowledges that artists are ‘passionate about their work and emotionally invested’, but thinks it is a pity to let them turn that passion on other people.

The other factor she signals out, however, is that people in the arts have no experience or training in dealing with these sort of things. Companies are also small and getting smaller due to the arts cuts, which means they have no human resources department. When problems arise there is either nowhere to appeal – if the bully is your supervisor – or the people appealed to have no idea how to handle it.

‘The bully is often a Jekyll and Hyde character,’ Quigg explains. ‘They can be nice as pie, and when an accusation is made they tend to turn it back on the victim.’ In a professional community as comparatively small as the UK art scene, no-one wants to be labeled a trouble-maker. ‘Most people just get out,’ Quigg shrugs.

Quigg has hopes that her book might start to change that. She has been invited to talk about the book, and her study, to MA students in Arts Management at City University and is contemplating a visit to Northern Ireland as well.

Quigg admits that her book has ‘a lot of statistics’, but it also includes a series of detailed case studies. She hopes those stories will give people a sense of the scenarios involved and some idea of how to cope with difficult situations. Even if things do change, the change will be slow.

So what does Quigg advocate for artists currently in untenable positions at work? ‘It is hard to deal with,’ she says. ‘Keep a record of everything that is said, writing down every time you are criticized. Try and get advice from your trade union or from citizen’s advice.’

Sage advice from someone who has experienced the rough side of the arts world as well as the smooth.