AT LEAST THEY CAN’T BE ACCUSED OF EXTRAVAGANCE

18 Dec

ladieswholunch

“Being an Artistic and Quality Assessor for Arts Council England,” I thought. “That might be an interesting job to do.” No, I really did. I know it’s sick. What’s an Artistic and Quality Assessor, though?

“Experienced cultural professionals [who] work with the Arts Council to contribute towards the assessment of arts organisations and museums. We will be asking you to undertake assessments of the work of Arts Council funded organisations across England.

Artistic and Quality Assessments provide a fair, robust and transparent platform for discussions about the quality of work produced by organisations that the Arts Council regularly funds, helping the Arts Council develop a broader evidence base to inform funding decisions…”

I’m an experienced cultural professional. Despite my opinion that ACE is far from perfect, they make an embarassing number of idiotic and non evidence-based policy blunders, they waste a lot of money and prioritise wrongly while harping on about cuts, and they need to just get on with rebalancing funding away from London instead of always blustering and quibbling every time the issue is raised (being able to see a play from the National Theatre that’s on for one midweek afternoon on a cinema screen in Ipswich or Wolverhampton doesn’t count)… broadly speaking I think the Arts Council makes a reasonable attempt at supporting the arts in England. I’m glad they exist, and I’d happily work with them or consult with them directly if they cared about people like me and our opinions. The AQA specification all sounds fair enough, but it also sounds like quite a lot of work. It must pay very well, especially on the “comprehensive terms contract”. I mean, you’re an expert in your field; an experienced artist, a journalist, somebody who works in a museum, an academic, etc. Artists and arts workers definitely should be assessed fairly and transparently by knowledgeable colleagues and peers who know what the job is like. You’ll be doing important work and writing reports that could influence the future programming and even the financial survival of the Arts Council’s regularly funded organisations.

ACEAssessors

Oh, wait…

“A flat fee of £1,000 a year, plus expenses” if you attend up to fourteen events. That’s £71.42 per gig. I actually had to do this three times on the calculator. Not that I thought the answer would be any different; I was just completely failing to deal with reality being so crap. It might be worth it if you only went to two or three things, but I can’t see them letting you get away with that.

“In most cases you will be able to have two tickets” as well. Woo. I know it’s a wanky thing to say, but I’ve had more comps than most people would even believe. It takes a little bit more than tickets waved in my face to get me excited. Unless it was best seats in the house opera tickets, in which case I’d turn right around and sell them because I hate opera. Stupid zombie 17th century genre still staggering around without a brain or a purpose except as a social occasion for rich people, just fucking die already and if you won’t die at least stop taking tens of millions of pounds from the Arts Council. Support yourself instead, starting by raising ticket prices for all the rich people in your audience, like they and you both know you could and should. This assessment is gratis. You’re welcome.

Turning attention away from what a dick I am and back to the subject at hand… The standard terms contract is also £71.42 per outing, but you only have to do half the activities while thinking about how to spend your £500. Pay off your mortgage? Buy a gold-plated sports car? Have yourself totally vajazzled with 100 carat diamonds? I imagine some Fagin-like transaction where somebody presses £500 into your hand as if you never heard of such riches. “Ere’s a monkey for yer troubles, son. Why don’t yer treat yersel, buy summink noice?”

Now I’m a fast, verbose and prolific writer, but if I were doing a report for a quango that might impact somebody’s employment, reputation or career I would want to spend some time on it. Even if I was having a free jolly at the theatre, festival, art gallery or whatever, my time in front of the computer alone would still be worth considerably more than £71.42. In fact I’ve done this kind of thing so I can tell you categorically that I have always put in more– and been paid for more– than £71.42’s worth of work on those projects. Maybe the assessors are just banging out their reports in minutes. I’m afraid that’s precisely what happens and I wouldn’t blame them at all, because the pay certainly isn’t motivating. Either that, or they’ve got all day because they don’t have anything else to do.

Some readers are probably thinking that they’d love to get free tickets and be paid to visit arty things, even if it wasn’t very much money. The point is you’re not having fun, or at least not primarily, secondarily or probably even tertiarily having fun. You’re working. It’s like writing a review or critique for publication or marking somebody’s work if you’re a teacher or lecturer. Again, I’ve done both of these things professionally. Sometimes you experience amazing work in the process and it’s a joy to have done so, but critics or lecturers get paid in money instead of warm feelings and freebies.

Assessors also have to attend two meetings in London. Arguably this knocks the pay down to £62.50 per foray. Not to mention that these may be neatly delineated half days for anybody who lives in London but ACE’s own literature notes that the assessors are a nationwide thing.  Thanks to Britain’s atrocious public transportation and decaying, overloaded road infrastructure, getting to London and across London from anywhere else in time for a morning meeting (or even lunch) is fraught at the best of times, and frequently a nightmare that stretches from the dawn of one day into the small hours of the next. This is someone who lives not very far up the mainline from London speaking. Try doing it from the north, middle or west of England. And I still get paid more than £71.42 for a half day’s work of this kind. a-n’s guidance on pay for artists– of which ACE supposedly approves– suggests a minimum day rate of £220 for a new graduate who expects to earn a reasonable £24K PA as a freelancer. Somebody with a decade’s experience should get no less than £305 per day.

You can read a fairly bland and unenlightening Q&A with an AQA for ACE who enjoys doing it and seems like a nice, intelligent gentleman, but from all the other evidence I can only conclude that this is a Ladies Who Lunch pocket money earner and not a proper job. It’s another example of how pernicious and deeply rooted is the practice of taking arts workers for granted and underestimating the hard cash and intangible value they contribute to the arts in Britain. There’s nobody at the Arts Council rubbing their hands together in miserly glee and swishing their cape, either; it just never even for a nanosecond occurred to anybody that this isn’t a pin money job. Dozens of people must have already silently endorsed the devaluation of their own professional standing by letting themselves be underpaid without a peep of dissent. So much for diversity and access for all. I couldn’t afford to do this much work– or indeed any work– for a pat on the back and my train fare. Put a zero on the end of it and we’ll talk. The Oompa Loompa defence (“but they love doing it”/”how can it be exploitation if you enjoy it?”) doesn’t work here, any more than it does elsewhere. Just because we love the arts and don’t involve ourselves in the arts primarily for the money, it doesn’t mean we should have to do so without the money. Nor should it be assumed that we automatically will do without the money, that we’re grateful for the opportunity, or that we can’t (or wouldn’t dare to) withdraw our support and labour. I feel sorry for anyone who thinks they should be grateful for being abused or exploited.

I’m sure some people I know have been AQAs previously, or currently do it on the sly, because even the art people I love are not generally notable for their economic rationality. Leave us all a comment about your wild and decadent AQA lifestyle, if you dare to anger Great Peter Street’s Eye of Sauron. Or perhaps Willy Wonka is a more apt comparison.

gene-wilder-and-oompa-loompas

“I, the undersigned, shall forfeit all rights, privileges, and licenses herein and herein contained, et cetera, et cetera… Fax mentis incendium gloria cultum, et cetera, et cetera… Memo bis punitor delicatum! It’s all there, black and white, clear as crystal! You lose! Good day, sir!”

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3 Responses to “AT LEAST THEY CAN’T BE ACCUSED OF EXTRAVAGANCE”

  1. Alistair 27/12/2014 at 12:17 PM #

    Reblogged this on Alistair Gentry.

  2. Angela Turkington 09/03/2017 at 3:59 PM #

    I was toying with the idea of applying for this via arts council Northern Ireland. They pay £120 per assessment, but I thought that was a bit stingy as I had a a pretty good idea of what would be involved. Having read your article, which makes great common sense, I have had a change of mind- what the hell was I thinking of? Thank you.

    • Alistair 09/03/2017 at 5:18 PM #

      Yes, like most rubbish jobs that really need doing, the pay is also crap.

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