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Heidi Ashton


Dr Heidi Ashton is Associate Professor in Cultural and Creative Ecologies and a Creative PEC Research Fellow.

She joined the Centre for Cultural and Media Policy Studies in 2019 having previously taught at the Centre for Labour Market Studies and the School of Management at the University of Leicester. She is a creative industries scholar with extensive experience in the creative industries having worked as a freelance dancer, choreographer and producer in a variety of settings including film, television, theatre and live events around the world. Her research was recently featured in The Guardian. Other research includes freelance workers' access to social security in the UK.

She is currently the Director of Education for SCAPVC and an external foreign evaluator for PhDs at the Department of Management Sciences, Bahria University, Pakistan.

Research Interests

DOWNLOAD PDF FULL REPORT- 'Not here to help' - Equity members' experiences of UC and the Minimum Income Floor

My interest in and motivation to study freelance workers within the creative industries stems from over 25 years of experience as a freelance worker in the sector and continued ethnographic research. My research has included freelancers' pay and conditions, studies on transitions, training and skills, work intensity and the implications of social, political and economic structures that shape inter-relationships between organisations, institutions and freelancers.

An overview of my research on creative freelancers in relation to the creative industries is presented in my blog for the 'Productivity and Futures of Work' research initiative.

More recently I have been working with the Union Equity on freelance workers' experiences of the social security system in the UK.

Research into work in the sector more broadly led to policy discussion paper 'a comparative analysis of freelance cultural work in the UK and USA' which was published by the Creative Industries Policy Evidence Centre. A further research paper that examines the impact of education policies on the sector can be found here had was featured in a recent Editorial in The Guardian. I am also working with partners in the sector and CCMPS academics David Wright and Chris Bilton on various projects related to work in the sector and the intersection of the sector and policy.

Research in partnership with the union 'Equity' is seeking to understand freelancers' access to social security in the UK. This is ongoing and due for completion in Spring 2023.

I have been working in collaboration with Prof Prue Huddleston on the development of skills through and for the creative industries and freelance workers in particular. In addition to academic outputs and conferences this research has been discussed at the Edge Foundation and the Education and Employers organisation. You can listen to an interview about our work on creativity and the curriculum with the Edge Foundation's Executive Director Olly Newton here. This has led to an examination of policy and government rhetoric around arts education and the impact that this has on access to arts and cultural education and the consequences for education and society more broadly.

A further collaboration with Rosemary Cisneros for Coventry City of Culture examined engagement with creative processes in marginalised groups with issues of identity, cultural appropriation, commercialisation and community cohesion. This led to the 'Urban Village' project. The aim was to bring together Roma and non-Roma to co-create a short documentary film, images and digital scrapbook exhibition that focuses on the experiences, identity and voices of the Roma people in Coventry told by those people.

Having recently published a book chapter on work intensity, flow and being in the zone with Prof Mark Banks we have now turned our attention to researching dance work and the pandemic.

Collaborative research on the impact of the pandemic on creative workers and organisation with colleagues at the Centre including Chris Bilton, Vishalakshi Roy and Maria Barrett culminated in a podcast series 'Culture Under Covid: Realities and Dreams'.

Current research includes an evaluation project for Coventry City of Culture led by Vishalakshi Roy with myself, David Wright and Jonathan Vickery.

Teaching and PhD supervision

I head the 'Industry strand' of the BA MCI and teach 'Working in the Cultural and Creative Industries' at MA level.

Current PhD students are investigating freelance dance work in the wake of the covid-19 crisis and aspects of the relationship between cultural work and policy and labour in relation to social media platforms. I am interested in supervising students with an interest in cultural / creative work, policy and work transitions.

Selected Publications

Ashton, H. (2023) 'Not Here to Help': Equity members' experiences of Universal Credit and the Minimum Income Floor

Ashton, H. (2023) Cutting the STEM of future skills: Beyond the STEM vs Art dichotomy in England Arts and Humanities in Higher Education DOI: 10.1177/14740222231156893

Ashton, H. and Ashton, D. (2022) Creativity and the curriculum: educational apartheid in 21st Century England, a European outlier? International Journal of Cultural Policy (published online 20th April 2022)

Ashton, H. (2021) Comparative analysis of pay and conditions in the West End and on Broadway: Policy Discussion Paper Creative Industries Policy and Evidence Centre, NESTA

Ashton, H. (2021) Book Review: Karen Patel, The Politics of Expertise in Cultural Labour: Arts, Work and Inequalities, Sociology

Ashton, H. (2020) Unmasking the Phantom: Pay and Policy in the West End and on Broadway, International Conference for Cultural Policy Research

Huddleston, P. and Ashton, H. (2019) Working to get work: freelance work within the creative and cultural sectors, Crossing Boundaries in Vocational Education and Training: Pedagogical concerns and market demands, 2-3 May 2019, Valencia, Spain

Huddleston, P. and Ashton, H. (2019) ‘Tell it like it is’: employer engagement and the new creative economy in Mann, A., Huddleston, P. & Kashefpakdel, E. T. (eds) Employer Engagement in Education Routledge, Oxford

Ashton H. and Banks M. (2018) Step into the Zone: career dancers, cultural work and intensity in Jordan, T., Woodward, K. and McClure, B. ed. ‘Culture, Identity and Intense Performativity: being in the zone’ Routledge, Oxford

Huddleston P. and Ashton H. (2017) Creativity and the curriculum: a glass half empty? – 12th Journal for Vocational Education and Training Conference, Oxford

Ashton, H. and Ashton, D. (2016) 'Bring on the Dancers’: Reconceptualising the transition from school to work, Journal of Education and Work, 29 (7) (published online 22nd June 2015).

Ashton, H. (2015) High Value Added, High Skills, Low Wages: The case of freelance dancers, a portent for the UK economy? - International Labour Process Conference, Athens, Greece.