Show me the Money of Fuck Off

Show me the money (or fuck off).

In 2013 my bessie Bryony wrote a brilliant blog about wages and worth in the arts, it kick started a debate about how we change this culture.

Like most freelancers I’ve spent January getting my receipts in order for my accountant, sorting e-invoices and waiting for a cheery response from HMRC - so in the spirit of Bryony’s post and following the ‘public outcry’ *rolls eyes* of Ellie Harrison receiving £15k for a years worth of work I thought I’d let you know what my accounts look like.

In 2014/1015 I made a grand total of £0 – in fact I made a loss of £7k. Now, some of you who watch naff pseudo-business shows on telly will tell me my business acumen is off kilter. Alan Sugar, I’m not but as most of my peers will agree I keep a keen eye on numbers and run a tight ship. During the last financial year I took 4 weeks off and worked on projects back to back for the rest of the year, so why such a hefty loss?

Increasingly artists are expected to operate like the publicly funded institutions they are working with. We’re expected to have full time staff that can respond to emails at the drop of a hat. We’ve got to have office and/or studio space to develop the work in because they’ve got no space. In some cases you can have rehearsal space but then there’s no fee – this is what has been branded ‘time and space’ – incorrect, its called exploitative.

We’re expected to have marketing departments and budgets for social media - this is so we can pay to market the shows at venues that are already taking 40% of ticket sales. We’re asked to pay for documentation and HD video minutes after signing on the dotted line - gone are the days when a flashy business card and swanky MySpace were all you needed. Being an artist in 2016 requires you to have infrastructure, public funding, at least three members of staff and a perpetual crowd funding campaign.

We’re asked to sign contracts that waive our moral rights, clauses that secure the future of the monolithic institutions and just in case you make a profit you’ve got to give them a percentage of the profits – they’re desperate for the cash, but don’t even think about asking for a discount card for their over priced coffee because the coffee shop is an external business so technically its not owned by the art centre, not to conflict with its charity status or government subsidy.

The wealthy sign cheques to these institutes in exchange for named bricks and seats, this cash is lured out of their Coutts accounts under the guise of ‘making art happen’ when really its being spent on tea infusions, meeting rooms and legal departments.

In 2015, to keep up with the sheer volume of work I have to make to keep afloat I took on a Lead Producer and Assistant Producer, both of whom work above and beyond their call of duty. We’re currently running at full capacity on very little gas with expectations of us that far exceed our capacity. Last year I had to spend over £1k on insurance before I could even step foot on a stage or think about employing a team. I now have insurance to insure me against terrorism.

In 2015 a Marketing Manager post in a subsidised space was advertised at £35k pa. In 2013 a Theatre Producer post in a subsidised space was advertised at £42k+ pa. In 2012 an Artistic Director post in a subsidised space was advertised at £150k+ pa. A charity commission search into our biggest arts spaces show they have an income of £11– £43 million per year.

A survey carried out in 2014 by Stage Directors UK found the average salary for directors in subsidised theatres was £10,759 pa. Last year the Paying Artists campaign revealed that nearly three-quarters of artists are getting just 37% of the average UK salary from their practice and in November, Create London found that 88% of its Panic! surveyparticipants had worked for free at some point in their career. In the past year I’ve been asked to co-curate festivals, lead workshops, attending steering groups, advise young people and discuss good practice (the irony) for free.

The money is there, its just being unfairly distributed. Even with Equity and ITC rates of pay artists are still not being paid properly.

The truth is our sector values those who administrate our practice more than the art that generates the income to pay these roles. I’m not saying these people don’t have value but when their well paid jobs, often with accompanying pensions are so massively disproportioned to the wages of artists populating the spaces it’s feel unfair. A pension? We can only dream of such luxury.

Artists are constantly asked to haggle their fee as if our practice is a stock or share with a fluctuating price. We’re asked to subsidise low touring fees with Arts Council funding, we’re asked to develop work with Arts Council funding, we’re asked to pay for the work with Arts Council funding – lets remind ourselves that these spaces already receive NPO, Lottery, foundation and philanthropic funding to do just that!

A recent GfA application has cost me around £1k in wages and expenses to collate the relevant information, write, speak with partners and get all the planets to align – who covers this cost? It’s easy when talking about money for venues to pass the buck and be critical of Arts Council England but I don’t think they are to blame. Even through all their cuts they’ve tried to cut the cost of their own infrastructure before passing this cut onto artists – have we seen this from our own institutions?

As I stare into the abyss of 2016, all of the work I’m currently promised is funding dependent – this means if funding isn’t granted I won’t be paid but I’ve got to keep the world pencilled in my dairy - it’s the worst business model ever! In the words of Bryony’s lush post “…and I’m an award winning artist!” - If I’m struggling to make it work by making work how are the emerging or marginalised artists surviving?

Yes, there are some companies and spaces who are equally as frustrated that artists struggle to survive but enough is enough, it’s boring, I’m not paying this game anymore. I value my health and wellbeing more than their need to put on a show – this isn’t a Judy Garland film, we don’t have to put on a show to save the local rodeo.

How do we change this culture and prevent this from becoming another rant about an artists worth? Having a ‘I value the arts’ twibbon isn’t going to cut it, queen. I don’t know the answer – do you? But I do know one thing - show me the money or fuck off.


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