“UNFORTUNATELY WE DON’T HAVE A BUDGET TO PAY ARTISTS”

19 May

500Monopoly

APPARENTLY IT’S NECESSARY TO TELL EVERYBODY THAT WE NEED MONEY TO SURVIVE

The “unfortunately we don’t have any money” phrase is most often heard from people in salaried jobs (often at publicly funded galleries, museums or agencies, so it’s not even their money as such) who seem to experience no doubt whatsoever that their own contributions should be remunerated. They find money for all kinds of other things, but not for the art and the artists that are their reason for having a job in the first place. Sometimes it’s plain old tight-fisted hypocrisy, occasionally it’s real cognitive dissonance because they genuinely can’t see any analogy or interdependence between what you do and what they do. Either that, or they have internalised the widespread “I only do my job to get paid and I don’t like it, therefore if you like your job, why should you be paid for it?” fallacy. For artists in the UK, two significant counter campaigns have recently begun. The first is Artists’ Union England, the new national trade union for visual and applied artists. Scotland’s artists’ union has existed for many years. I suggest that all artists who care about fair treatment for themselves and their fellow artists join the appropriate union. In the case of AUE, early members will have a significant opportunity to determine its form and policy for the next few years.

The second is a-n’s Paying Artists, which clearly (although as usual perhaps a bit too timorously and Oliver Twist-like) describes just how self-defeating and perverse it is for the art world to allow or even encourage the decimation of its fundamental materials, i.e. art and artists. Visual art is just one of the fields in which a minority of people who can afford to provide professional quality work for free are destroying the opportunities and livelihoods of a majority who can’t. Those who can’t afford to work for free often have precisely those diverse backgrounds, unusual viewpoints and deep expertise that are most interesting and valuable to the sector. Jack Oxbridge-Trustfund and Kate Gallerina conversely tend to lack these qualities. I’m suspicious of the arts always appealing to the bottom line as if that’s all anyone outside of it could possibly understand, although obviously many people need continual reminders that the economic output of the arts in the UK shouldn’t be underestimated. The extended creative industries are worth about as much to GDP as the financial services sector, and more than the construction industry, but receive a fraction of the subsidy (and tolerance) of either. It’s valid to say so, but we should be wary of this always being the primary or most noticeable narrative.

My main problem with what’s on the site so far is related to the undue prominence of this economic argument. One obvious merit of artists seems totally unmentioned amongst all this talk of revenue and voices for communities, unless I’ve missed it somehow. Prosperity, tourism and community involvement are good, but what about the capacity of artists and art to bring joy, pleasure, agitation, reflection, beauty, memorialisation or provocation? If artists– in the widest possible definition of the word– are not here to bring these things, then who will? It seems like a significant omission not to mention this if you’re hoping to advocate for the value of artists’ work.

Senior figures at Arts Council England have expressed their support verbally for the campaign’s principles, though it remains to be seen if they’ll prove they have any teeth by actively enforcing for the first time their (longstanding, and genuine as far as I can tell) commitment to artists being paid fairly for their work. Paying Artists rightly suggests that fair pay and conditions for all workers or providers– including artists, obviously– should be set down in black and white as part of every publicly-funded organisation’s settlement with the funder and their commitment to the tax-paying populace whose money it really is. I would add that if these organisations repeatedly fail to comply, they should be penalised financially for it. I suspect their attitudes would change very quickly if this were the case, especially since most of them already cower before their funders even though they’re for the most part quite reasonable, generous and hands-off.

From now on, when you tell a gallery or so-called “commissioner” to do one after they say they can’t pay you, I suggest you also append links to the appropriate union and to the Paying Artists page. You know, hint.

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6 Responses to ““UNFORTUNATELY WE DON’T HAVE A BUDGET TO PAY ARTISTS””

  1. Alistair 22/05/2014 at 6:08 PM #

    Reblogged this on Alistair Gentry.

  2. celandinedesign 12/06/2014 at 10:44 PM #

    A great text on an ever-increasingly relevant topic. It really disturbs me that a large percentage of people who deal with artists seem to attach no real value to the artists’ work.

  3. anitachowdry 17/06/2014 at 1:25 AM #

    “Opportunities” section in Artquest – any thoughts on this one, Mr. Gentry? Am I stupidly missing some profoundly creative concept embedded in this opportunity?
    Anita

    “Home > Opportunities > Deadlines > July 2014
    Rufus Stone Residency
    DEADLINE
    10 July 2014
    address

    Residencies to begin mid-September in London for four weeks. For self-directed and/or research based projects. “We are especially interested in working with artists who have strategies for reaching audiences without the mediation of traditional institutions or structures. We are looking for artists who would prefer to have a straightforward connection to society without having their work regarded as mere craft.” The artist is expected to secure their own funding. The residency has no funding. There is no funding for transport . There is no funding for food. There is no studio provided with the residency.”

    • Alistair 18/06/2014 at 10:38 PM #

      Not really a residency, is it? It’s a brief stay in somebody’s spare room, which is fine if you just call it what it is. I’ve stayed in some nice spare rooms. I didn’t call them residencies, though.
      Rufus’ website doesn’t seem to be quite as poetic as Artquest is about the total lack of resources. It reminds me of Shakespeare:
      Last scene of all,
      That ends this strange eventful history,
      Is second childishness and mere oblivion,
      Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything.
      (Sans funding, sans transport, sans studio, sans everything)
      Maybe somebody at AQ was providing their own sly commentary on this opportunity?
      I regard my work as a craft. A space craft. It’s a massive flying saucer.

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