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Living wage for artists

Page history last edited by Alison Croggon 16 years, 1 month ago

Work for an actor or musician is rarely constant or sufficiently paid. Too many of our emerging and established performers are spending too much time away from their real work in other low-paid casual and part-time employment just to pay the rent. We weaken our talent, ideas, creativity and productions by sending our mature and emerging artists into cafes, bars and factories. This keeps them away from their real work which is  rehearsing, practicing, writing, creating, performing.


A basic living allowance for artists would be a great thing.

Australia's financial arrangements for supporting the arts tends towards financing products (a play, a painting, a concert hall) and fail to adequately support the human beings who make the work possible.

Our arts funding systems, taxation laws, and social security arrangements need to be re-written to support artists. The economic terms ‘industry’, ‘product’, ‘market’ and ‘profit’ can sometimes apply to some parts of the chain of events that eventuate in the production of a work, but are irrelevant to the total process, and  irrelevant and insulting to the people who are making the work. The life cycle of a work – its conception, drafting, development, realization, documentation, re-staging - can be over many years, and needs time and resources. The material needs for the work and for the artist(s) are rarely met by arts grants or employers such as festivals or venues. Artists are expected to exist in some pure self-sustaining fantasy space where housing, food and other needs magically appear when required. When artists articulate their needs they are often met with incredulity because it is perceived that because we want to make art, or because we enjoy our work, the poverty is of our own making and necessary for an artistic life. I argue that the arts are not an industry and its terms of reference need to be re-examined:


How many people in other ‘industries’ have to apply (beg?) for work, many times a year, to be paid little or nothing?

The grants system requires that for weeks of every year the artist writes applications which may or may not culminate in money for projects. This is unpaid work. I am offended when I am asked to fill in surveys about funding processes. This is unpaid work which draws on my knowledge and experience. I am offended when I am invited to a launch of funding projects, where all the administrators are paid and there are cakes and tea and I can’t pay my rent.


I am offended that so much of arts funding disappears into management and administration: how much actually supports an artwork? And how much actually supports the artist?

I am sometimes distraught at the impossible position I find myself in: of wanting to make a work, having some money to make the work (either through grants or self-funding) and absolutely no way of simultaneously supporting myself as a person: my rent, my food, my health. I am not lazy: I couldn’t work harder. (I am offended that I feel have to include that sentence.)


The grants system acknowledges, or even insists on, ‘in-kind’ contributions from the artist. These ‘in-kind’ contributions include time, equipment, office and rehearsal space, materials, transport. Can the taxation department and social security systems acknowledge these as well, for example as hourly rates for rehearsal time as a tax deduction? There needs to be a radical reviewing of how an artist and their work are perceived. How can an actor, rehearsing full-time for 4 weeks in an un-funded profit-share production, support themselves? ‘Unemployment benefits’ is insulting and offensive, obviously untrue, and perpetuates the false view that art does not require effort.


How about creating a ‘Rehearsal Benefit’ or a ‘Performance Benefit’?

A gob-smacking moment in January this year: while I was in costume, singing and playing at a community event a woman came up to me, complimented me then asked “Are you an out of work actor?”. Things are pretty bad when a working performer is not even recognized as a working performer.

Artists already contribute to the economy. During festivals (comedy, Melbourne, fringe, fashion) taxi drivers, the public transport system, car-parking venues, restaurants, ushers, beer makers, clothing shops, administrators, advertisers, and ticketing outlets all make money, while the artists are often under paid, not paid, or pay to play. This contribution needs to be acknowledged systematically and culturally.


A play may never make a profit at the box office for the actors, writer, director, producer, designers or venue, but may making a major contribution to the wider economy.

Artists already contribute to the culture, with their work.


I am surrounded by people who are giving an enormous amount of energy, creativity, time and expertise for little or no money. My volunteer/unpaid work this year includes: Played host to 3 different artists at separate times for a total of 12 nights who were visiting Melbourne to perform, gave them a bed, and fed them (I slept on a lilo on the floor because I don’t have a spare bed); loaned recording equipment; wrote numerous grant applications; played a number of gigs for no money; innumerable hours of practice and rehearsals for no money; produced a concert for no money; played and sat on the door for no fee/reduced fee for fund-raising benefit gigs, spent countless hours emailing. I’m not unusual; most people I know are doing their versions of this.


My experience is that the arts are fuelled by generosity.


My guess is that most artists who had a bit more money are likely to spend that money in Australia, either on their own work or by paying to go to shows.

Thank you for taking the time to read this.


Carolyn Connors

April 2008


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