Like so many others, artist and creative director Daisy Rogers was, to put it mildly, left at a loose end when the pandemic hit last year. She had been running a small non-profit art school that was forced to close. “All my writing ceased, all my art commissions – everyone went, yeah, this is not where I want to put my money right now,” she tells Campaign.
But as well as facing economic insecurity, Rogers (pictured) – who is queer and neurodivergent (she has attention deficit disorder and sensory processing disorder) – experienced many of the secondary impacts of lockdown.
“With a very narrowing media narrative and queer spaces closing their doors for the pandemic and all these sorts of things, it felt very isolating and it felt very homogenous,” she says.
“I was sort of sitting at home feeling sorry for myself and thinking, you know what, there must be other people feeling as disenchanted and as isolated and underrepresented as I do right now. And wouldn't it be amazing if I could help, not just myself to have more creative expression but, loads of others as well, and bring diverse communities into the mainstream narrative.”
After putting out a call on LinkedIn for freelance creatives from various disciplines that brought 350 responses in 48 hours, the result was Liberally, a creative and talent agency dedicated to amplifying underrepresented voices that also stands out as, according to Rogers, the UK’s only non-profit creative agency.
As well as working with brands and representing talent, Liberally operates a website, panel discussions, podcasts and a quarterly magazine, the next issue of which will be out in October and focuses on “intersectionality through a black lens”.
Liberally has this week unveiled a core “talent board” of eight diverse creatives that the agency will work with “on a formal basis to further their career”, in Rogers' words. They are:
- Becky Namgauds, choreographer and dance artist
- Anna Lumsden, hair and make-up artist
- Sama Kai Sundifu, photographer
- Henri T, photographer
- Rebecca Hawkins, sculptor and fine artist
- Bella Frimpong, writer
- Jordan Labarr, writer
- Fernanda Liberti, photographer
Alongside this, is a wider creative community of about 50 people, who are able to pitch both for Liberally’s client work and in its own magazine. Rogers hopes to expand this pool and is looking into Arts Council grants to support this.
Liberally’s financial model has no room for negotiation: it works with its creatives to establish a set rate that clients can take or leave, with a flat 20% fee placed on top of this for running costs. It has been established as a "community interest company", a company model established in 2005 that does not have private shareholders.
Rogers has been seeking investors to support growth, although potential supporters are necessarily limited to those driven by Liberally’s social objectives rather than financial return. Anyone who does invest can benefit from social investment tax relief, allowing them to make a small return when they commit for three years.
Rogers says that when considering investors, she wants “to see a historical evidence that those social investors are already investing in social initiatives, and that by lived experience they are contributing to social change. So there needs to be a brand fit there as well. Because I don't want it to be disingenuous.”
She admits the model she has chosen “does make it harder to grow”, but says: “I'm interested in making a difference to people's lives. And I'm interested in paying myself and my team a reasonable wage, and that's enough for me. So that was a really fundamental reason as to why I chose to create the business as a community interest company, because I want legally to be bound by that transparency and by that necessity to reinvest into the mission.”
For Rogers, the business model is fundamentally linked to her objective to support underrepresented voices. “This is more than just semantics, this is about saying to minoritised voices – who have historically been suppressed and been undervalued and been exploited – this is saying, we see you, we see what your worth is. In addition to the fees and commission way in which we work, we also have very strong welfare clauses. So, our clients will be expected to sign a clear code of conduct, around how those practices are treated and any kinds of route for recourse, should there be any incident incidences around discrimination.”
In order to create justice in the creative industries and beyond, Rogers believes the focus needs to move from supporting diversity to fostering belonging – a point also made in a book by Kathryn Jacob, Mark Edwards and Sue Unerman published last year. “Diversity is having a voice,” Rogers says. “Inclusion is having your voice being heard, but then belonging is feeling like you can speak in the first place, not waiting to be asked. And that's where we're aiming for.”
Liberally will work only with brands and other partners that have “a demonstrable commitment that they can show us an evidence based commitment to social change, to equality”, Rogers explains. One current client, for example is fintech company Worldwide Generation, “who are very much interested in the SDGs [sustainable development goals] and implementing change through those”.
It is also about to sign to become the lead media partner for DIAL Global, the community for Diverse Inclusive Aspirational Leaders. “They're one of the leading diversity consultancies, and they are helping huge brands like M&S, the Co-op, the FA, huge brands to understand diversity and leadership better.”
All three of those major names are ones Rogers would like to work with. “When it comes to a brand like the Co-op or M&S, we want to see, for example, a charter, which they have. We also want to see evidence of future activity that's already been planned.
“At the moment, we'd love to work with the FA. They maybe have further to go than some other brands but if they can show us a demonstrable path forward, then we're willing to help them on that journey. What we're not interested in is tokenism.”
Photos, top row: Namgauds, Lumsden, Sundifu, T; bottom row: Hawkins, Frimpong, Labarr, Liberti