Tag Archives: paying artists

FUNDEE

25 Apr

SOME NOTES AND CONCLUSIONS

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I’m seriously tardy because the event in question was several months ago, but SEVERAL MONTHS AGO I was invited to the artist-run Generator Projects in Dundee to talk about a-n’s Paying Artists campaign, which I have worked on over the past year or so. Generator paid me, by the way. Not very much, but proportionately more than some places have paid me when they could afford to do better. QED. In keeping with my observations about this subject over the course of many years finally, at long last, being on the agenda of artists and the organisations that work with them, the room was completely full and it didn’t take long for almost everybody to have something (often many things) to say on the subject. The conversation also bore out the same things that I and other people advocating for fair pay– or in some cases, any pay at all– have heard repeatedly when it comes to artists describing their experiences of publicly funded or otherwise not short of money institutions forming relationships with them. Generator itself is an example of how much artist-led, mostly volunteer, low-to-no-budget groups do and how important they are to the arts ecosystem in Britain, and with no prompting from me whatsoever conclusion one was:

Exactly… look how much artist-led, low-to-no-budget groups do without funding, FFS. There’s no excuse for larger and better funded galleries, museums or commissioners with full-time employees not to do at least as well in providing opportunities and support for large numbers of artists. Most of them don’t. Alongside this we should also remember, though, that just because most artists don’t do it for the money it doesn’t mean they should do it without any money. There’s a huge value in grassroots peer support (and in fact I’m putting together an experiment along those lines now) but the discussion in Dundee and a-n’s other national consultations have revealed a fairly firm consensus that small, self-organised and artist-led groups should not be held to the same standards as a formal organisation, nor should they be expected to compete with these organisations for funding and other resources. They also shouldn’t be pressured to take up the slack left by locally and nationally funded organisations not facing up to their responsibilities.

On the contrary, a number of people voiced another widely held view among artists: the large flagship institutions that grew up around the UK over the past fifteen years or so– often as Millennium projects, or as part of a regeneration agenda– could and should be acting as umbrellas for smaller organisations (and non-organisations). Self-organised groups of artists, and grassroots projects trying to revive dead buildings or moribund high streets don’t have PR people, administrators or technicians sitting around flicking themselves off in brand new custom-built offices, but the capital and regional flagship galleries do. I know from firsthand experience that people who work for small and barely funded non-building-based arts organisations all work their arses off, just as I also know from firsthand experience that some of their overpaid counterparts in the largest and most prestigious organisations wouldn’t know what hard work was if it hit them in the face. This is particularly galling when some of them offer “free publicity” or something similar as if it’s a fair substitute for not being paid. Why can’t they offer this PR and admin support unconditionally, say one day a week, since everyone knows it’s spare capacity anyway? And why don’t the likes of the Arts Council or Creative Scotland make it a condition of their funding that they do? This is, after all, the ostensible logic behind these big, purpose built arts hubs being built and supported in the first place: that they act as beacons for art going and art making in their vicinity. Again, they mostly don’t. This is especially cogent now, because to get Grants for the Arts funding, individual artists, Community Interest Companies and unincorporated arts groups are all now having to compete (unpaid, of course) not only with libraries and museums but also with huge commissioners or public galleries, all of whom have full-time staff.

At this point we started getting utopian and discussing the notion of artists just fucking it all off and simply seeking their validation and their connections with people outside of all these institutions. Cooperatives, mutuals, free love communes, etc. Actually we didn’t talk about free love communes, but I think we probably would have done if we’d been there longer.

Then we went back to misery a bit when we talked about unions and the remarkable fact that after many years of existence the Scottish Artists Union currently rejoices in having about a thousand members. I was a member when I lived in Scotland, and good for SAU, but that’s a shockingly low number of artists for a nation of 5 million people or so. Obviously they’re not all artists, but it’s still not a great number of members and therefore one major benefit of unionisation– collective bargaining– is hardly a factor. I likewise wish the newly formed artists’ union in England all the best in their endeavours, but it doesn’t bode well that they seem to be having so much trouble with recruitment. I can’t help thinking that old school unions have probably had their day anyway, because we need much more nimble, responsive and unignorable means of organising resistance and change if we really want it. Less Jeremy Corbyn, more Anonymous or Occupy.

AWARD YOURSELF

9 Mar
Henrik Ibsen

“Everyone’s a winner, baby, that’s the truth.” (Henrik Ibsen Hot Chocolate). Henrik Ibsen painted by Henrik Olrik, 1879.

From the book Creators: From Chaucer and Dürer to Picasso and Disney, Paul Johnson on the shitty, unfair and callously underappreciated lives of the world’s most undeniably creative people, who bring pleasure, beauty and inspiration to thousands or millions of people… plus Henrik Ibsen’s splendid but bonkers riposte.

“What strikes me, surveying the history of creativity, is how little fertile and productive people often received in the way of honours, money, or anything else. Has there ever been a more accomplished painter than Vermeer – a painter closer to perfection in creating beautiful pictures? How Vermeer must have cared about what he was doing! And how hard and intensely he must have worked to do it! Yet when he died, his widow had to petition the local guild for charity – she and her children came to abject poverty. That has been the fate of many widows of fine artists… It seems to me horrifying that Johann Sebastian Bach, a hardworking man all his life, at the top of his profession as organist and composer, and a careful and abstemious man too, should have died in poverty, as did the sister of Mozart, another prodigiously industrious and successful maker of music. Both these men were creators on a colossal scale, and consistently produced works of the highest quality. But they could not achieve security for their families.”

(For the reverse of this, i.e. how “successful” artists secretly had the independent wealth to do it all along and couldn’t really fail, see also Trustafarians of the Belle Époque)

Johnson disapproves of Ibsen’s bolshy, can-do response to not getting the plaudits he knew he deserved, but I think this is brilliant:

“One of the most curious sights in Oslo in the 1890s was Henrik Ibsen, walking to a public dinner, wearing his decorations. So keen was he on medals that he actually employed a professional honours broker* to get them from every government in Europe. He wore them on his dress clothes, reaching to his waist and even below it, and he often pinned a selection to his everyday suits. Thus weighted down and clanking, he strode nightly to his favourite café, for schnapps… But his habit was unbecoming unless (and this seems unlikely) his intent was humorous.”

Unbecoming? Sod that. Walking around with a bunch of honours and medals as normal day wear is my new sartorial goal. Award yourself the prize.

*Note: These types of brokers still exist and probably explain some of the odd and random people awarded various medals, titles and honorary degrees for doing nobody-is-entirely-sure-what.

HAPPENING EVERYWHERE

25 Jan

MemesMemes

About five years ago when I and a few colleagues started talking about the (mostly really shitty) economics and realpolitik of being an artist who isn’t one of yer Damien Hirsts, Tracey Emins or Turner Prize winner– and aren’t we all glad not to be?– everybody else’s reaction was what the who now? You want to talk about money? Why? Don’t artists just do it for the sake of art? Then hundreds of artists, arts professionals and art lovers turned up to the public discussions we organised on the subject. Now everybody’s talking about it everywhere, all the time, from Facebook groups like Stop Working For Free to art blogs like Hyperallergic. Books are written about it, although none of them are as good as mine. There are campaigns like W.A.G.E. in New York and the UK’s Paying Artists. The more the better because it’s still not enough. Nobody talks about it much in the mainstream newspapers and art magazines, obviously, or at the director and senior curator or top 100 artist level because they all have comfy upper middle class (often much higher than upper middle class) salaries to protect so they want it kept down low. Either that or they simply haven’t noticed how hard it is now for artists to get paid or even to get a foot in the door to begin with.

Last week I became aware of another two voices adding to what must soon be a critical mass of resistance to the fucked up status quo for people who work in the arts.

Iceland’s SÍM (Association of Icelandic Artists) has launched We Pay Visual Artists. Obviously their site is mostly in Icelandic, but their interesting and well-argued videos are all subtitled. a-n’s Jack Hutchinson did a report on it in English.

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The actors’ union Equity also have a campaign called Professionally Made Professionally Paid, which if nothing else is an excellent slogan. They have three useful documents available to download, containing pragmatic advice for the payers and the hopefully getting paid, alongside more general context that is useful for any creative worker in any medium.

I particularly enjoyed their unapologetic and detailed calling out of You Me Bum Bum Train, who get a rocket up the arse arse because despite broadsheet cultural critics who seem to love the theatrical result of performers working their poor thespian bum bums off for no pay… (quote):

“You Me Bum Bum Train engage exclusively volunteers to do what should be paid professional work in the main. They refuse to engage with the Union in any meaningful way and have a business model dependent on the use of volunteer labour (which is largely highly skilled, being sought from the ranks of paid professionals). Only via established theatres with whom we have an industrial relationship have we managed to have any contact with the company.”

This is a very succinct condensation of the persistent and diffuse problems faced by many artists– and I mean artists in the widest sense of the word including actors, performance artists, writers, visual artists, and so on. Paid individuals, profit making companies or publicly funded projects expecting to get professional quality work for nothing, and very often getting away with it. Years of training and/or honing your craft not only taken for granted but also just taken as if they have a right to it. Paid work abolished in favour of unpaid work that only a comfortably off person can commit to. Also this theatre company’s name is really bloody stupid and has always irked me, but that’s mostly unrelated.

NOBLESSE OBLIGE

19 Jan

 

Chatterton 1856 by Henry Wallis 1830-1916

“Unfortunately we have no budget to pay fees or expenses.”

a-n the artists information company have just published their draft recommendations and guidance on the payments and fees that should be due from publicly funded galleries to artists. FYI I’ve worked on the Paying Artists campaign and I work for a-n sometimes. I also think artists based in the UK should have their own look at it, so I won’t offer too much commentary except to pull out:

NOBODY IS ASKING FOR MUCH

Despite stiff resistance from an insignificant and usually bonkers minority of the public and a significant minority of people who work for public arts organisations, all of whom are baffled or bitter (or both) that an artist should get paid anything… the suggested fees for artists are far from outrageous and usually amount to no more than a few thousand or even a few hundred pounds. Bear in mind that it’s rare for most artists to have more than one show per year in a publicly funded gallery in the UK. Although many public galleries do pay properly, some still don’t even clear the very low bar for pay set by these guidelines. Some don’t bother trying. And if a gallery in receipt of public funds can’t even budget to pay the equivalent of one artist’s salary for a year across all their shows– the bare minimum this guidance suggests– then they need to take a good look at their finances in general, and so should their funders.

Indeed their funders are beginning to do so, because apparently they’re exasperated too. After all, mentioning no names, it’s not unknown for very large flagship Arts Council-funded organisations *cough English National Opera… cough… Firstsite* to mismanage their finances and general governance so severely that they lose millions and have to be removed from ACE’s national regular funding portfolio with a warning they’ll be cut off permanently if they don’t sort themselves out. Nobody, including the Arts Council, wants to hear five or six figure-funded places whining about being pushed into the red if they paid artists a bit more for their work.

Even in the absence of more funding, many gallery directors or senior curators (for example) could take a pay cut they’d hardly notice to make a significant difference to the incomes of numerous artists. Obviously this is rarely a popular suggestion, or indeed a suggestion at all, when the grown ups are attending their endless round of conferences, art fair collateral events and talking head panels that no artist or self-employed arts worker could afford to attend even if they were invited, which they aren’t.

INTANGIBLE BENEFITS SHOULD STILL ACTUALLY BE BENEFITS

“Activity that is part of the gallery’s day to day work should not be treated as an in kind benefit (e.g. marketing and publicity around exhibitions.)” In other words, you don’t get to act magnanimous by offering something that you’d do anyway. So many arts organisations and venues really need to take this on board, not just in the publicly funded sector but also across all of the arts. Genuinely valuable intangible benefits do exist, but doing the job you get paid a salary to do is not an onerous burden or a favour you’re doing for your contractors, customers or audience. “We offer desk space and marketing support” is very often one short step away from the heinous “We offer exposure”, because if you employ someone to do marketing or administration then the workload they incur in the course of their jobs includes dealing with artists and other freelancers working for the organisation. And anyway, if marketing and exposure and whatnot are really worth so much money, in a contest between exposure and just having the money we’d prefer the cash in a brown envelope, please.

Funnily enough, some in the arts rely upon more or less the same dodge of intangible benefits that are so intangible they don’t really exist; i.e. that thousands of artists will do for nothing what they should be getting paid for, thereby piddling away their own bargaining power and that of artists collectively.

DEPRESSING BUT PREDICTABLE SURVEY OF THE WEEK

24 Nov

(Image via the sadly long-defunct http://lookatmyfuckingredtrousers.blogspot.co.uk )

Findings have just been published from a national survey about the working lives of cultural and creative workers in the UK. It was carried out by Goldsmiths, University of London, University of Sheffield and LSE as part of their project Panic! What Happened to Social Mobility in the Arts?

The findings provide hard evidence for the common impression that the arts sector is a closed shop where most people are middle class and it also makes revealing discoveries about how gender and ethnicity can affect a career in the arts and how higher wage earners view the sector in comparison to lower wage earners.

They’re not kidding. People who earn over £50,000 PA tend to believe it was their hard work and talent that counted, while those earning under £5,000 (over a quarter of the respondents) believe that it’s not what you know but who you know that counts. 18% of those surveyed earned only £5-15K PA; the Living Wage Foundation’s figure of £8.25 an hour for 38 hours per week, 52 weeks a year, would be £16,302 PA for a bare minimum standard of living.

76% of people working in the arts grew up with at least one parent who worked in a middle class managerial or professional occupation. 88% of arts workers did so for free at some point in their careers. 23% of men and 32% of women took part in unpaid internships. All of these findings strongly emphasise the role of the hotel and bank of mummy and daddy in launching the careers of most “hard working”, “talented” arts professionals, and the later necessity for many cultural workers to be partnered with somebody who earns a reasonable wage, because the cultural workers themselves rarely do.

In other shit news, men still earn on average 32% more than women for doing comparable jobs in the cultural industries.

More detail here, here and here.

PS I assume it’s just really bad writing on behalf of Hannah Ellis-Petersen (eponysterical QED for that typical middle class name) in The Guardian when she says that “44% of those from BAME backgrounds felt ethnicity was either “essential” or “very important” to getting ahead in the arts”. I doubt the survey authors are really suggesting that black and minority ethnic people are only given opportunities because they’re ethnic minorities, i.e. 44% of BAME people think their ethnicity was the most important aspect of their success.

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