This blog post is in response to Bryony Kimmings’s recently posted rant about how little good artists and performers are actually paid, and her fury at being asked to constantly de-value her work. Yes, we all know arts funding is being slashed everywhere, blah blah blah, same old story – but I think many people found it truly shocking that a well-established, regularly funded artist has revealed that she can “barely make ends meet”. She made it clear that she was writing on behalf of mid-career artists, who have had major success and sold-out tours across the UK. The emergents are a whole different category, with a fresh batch of problems. I’m here to talk about those poor fuckers.
Please note that this article is based on my PERSONAL opinions and experiences, but I know many people feel the same. If you disagree then that’s fine; I’m only an EMERGENT so I don’t know what I’m going on about really, do I? Also please note that I copied Bryony’s CAPS LOCK STYLE of writing because it’s AWESOME.
This is a sidestep from the original debate of venues vs artists, but ignited from the announcement that fully-funded artists aren’t earning enough. If successful artists such as Bryony aren’t experiencing fair wages and reasonable working hours, where the hell does that leave the desperately-trying-but-not-yet-successful artists?! I’ll tell you where – wondering what the fuck is the whole point.
So, let’s get personal. Me and Bryony actually have something in common. She mentions that three years ago she was the Artistic Director of Chisenhale Dance Space. As she left to pursue her own artistic work, I was employed there as an intern (unpaid of course). So there are a few major differences in what has happened for us since – her self-employed career has been a huge success, she is well known around the country and has won numerous awards for her work. I, on the other hand, am yet to get one slightly artistic job since I left, but at least I’m earning minimum wage now.
A few more details about my internship in a creative organisation: like many others, after slogging hard for three years and paying a ridiculous amount to graduate from university I started working for FREE. In LONDON – the explicitly expensive city Bryony describes in her article. I had no travel expenses, either, and I was commuting in rush hour from Bedford which is at least an hour out of the city. Why did I do this? Because I loved the job of course, and because graduates were fighting for unpaid internships as we were under the impression it would GET US SOMEWHERE. I was wrong. I was doing paid work alongside the unpaid work, but it just wasn’t enough to pay my rent. After three months, my internship was over and I was bankrupt; I was forced to move back in with my parents in Manchester.
So where am I now, three years on? Still living with the parents, at age 24. I have never had a salaried job, and I can count the number of times I have been paid for my artistic practice on one hand. I passed my driving test four years ago and have never been able to afford a car. My friends outside the art world are living in swish city apartments and driving around in new cars, or going on holiday twice a year. In my group of friends, the one who earns the most (£25,000) is two years younger than me and did not bother with university.
However, I know of a small handful of people in my field for whom the future looks brighter. I come from a dance background, which is a little bit different from experimental theatre but in the same bracket for funding and audience numbers purposes. Most of the performers I know have only managed to bag jobs ABROAD. Hardly any are making their own work outside educational support and if they are, they certainly aren’t getting paid for it – performing either at platforms or fringe festivals. These are a great way to get seen and network with people, but NOTHING seems to be happening afterwards. Very recently, a friend received her first funding to tour a new piece, which is very exciting – but this is one of at least 50-60 graduates I know from different universities and specialist dance/performing arts schools all over the country.
Emerging choreographers/theatre makers are the future of the industry, yet funding organisations still choose to support the older, more experienced makers. I’m not saying younger artists are better than older artists, nothing of the sort, because I don’t actually think age comes into it at all. But FRESH ideas and choreography are more likely to come from FRESH graduates, who have been FRESHLY inspired every day for three or four years. This doesn’t apply to everyone – of course there will be people coming straight from education who are simply not good enough or business savvy enough to COMPETE with the more mature, experienced artists who are at the TOP OF THEIR GAME. But at the moment, nobody is even getting a chance.
And I’m not blaming funding organisations for this; we all know there is too little money around and very difficult decisions are being made – I don’t blame them for choosing the people they know better and who have been given funding before as a SAFE BET. And I can think of many regularly funded companies making interesting work, but like I stressed before I am GENERALISING. This is unlikely to change in the near future so let’s move onto the shitty things we all do to pursue our artform.
We all have to eat and pay the rent (unless you have generous parents like mine, or find a millionaire to marry). Making creative work is very unlikely to pay the bills, so we have to find cash some other way – any way we can, basically. It has to fit around our artistic schedule, so is often shift work or casual work, which can’t be guaranteed. Let’s face it, any part-time job we get to fund ourselves will be MINIMUM WAGE, and more than likely INTOLERABLE. What kinds of people degrade themselves to do these menial jobs out of CHOICE (after studying), in order to fulfil other career ambitions? As far as I’m aware, it’s only one group of people: the creatives.
We make ourselves believe that it will all be worth it – doing CRAP JOBS for CRAP MONEY is just part of the journey to becoming an artist, making a sacrifices for your artistic endeavours. That’s how all the successful artists started out, isn’t it? But there comes a time when a crap job offering crap wages just isn’t enough, and that crap job makes you despise your art for being the reason you do that crap job. And this time will occur at a different point in everybody’s life. The time where you question what you do, and if you LOVE it enough to live as a POOR, STRUGGLING artist forever.
That time of questioning has come a lot sooner for me than it has for Bryony Kimmings. I think she is an inspiration to make it to 32. I am about to give up because I am sick of not living like a NORMAL person – money isn’t everything but you can’t really progress in life without it. And although dancing, performing, choreographing and writing makes me HAPPY, it gives me no STABILITY. I don’t need to be rich and own expensive things, I just want to be comfortable even though I’m A SELF EMPLOYED CREATIVE.
I recently stumbled across a quote from Winston Churchill, which further encouraged me to forget my dream of making a living out of what I love doing: “It is no use doing what you like; you have got to like what you do.” I think the unsettling reality of those words will hit us all one day. For me it’s time to move on and get on with finding a normal job, then LEARNING to like it. We will drop off the creative radar at different points in our lives – we will all have our reasons, probably centred around money problems. There is always a constant struggle between doing ARTISTIC WORK and being POOR, or doing OTHER WORK and being FINANCIALLY OKAY. That doesn’t change when you become an established, successful artist with full time work. What Bryony has shed light on for us emergents is the fact that even if we’re determined enough to MAKE IT in the industry, we will not be financially rewarded for being successful. That is unheard of in any other business. And while I stress that I doubt anyone is really in it for the money, it is not much to ask to be able to live comfortably.
I think we all need to be worried if brilliant artists like Bryony are considering moving away from the industry; she will be sadly missed if she stops making her innovative performance art. It is great that she has got the whole sector talking about real CHANGE, and hopefully the debate will start some action. I don’t have any SUGGESTIONS, as I’m not experienced enough in the touring industry to know what I’m going on about. What I do agree with is Bryony’s suggestion of politely declining to work for free in order to stop this false economy surrounding the arts. I’m not saying I don’t agree with VOLUNTEERING – the whole arts sector would collapse without it. Sometimes you get something back for volunteering, such as free studio space or a performance ticket, which means there’s something in it for all parties involved. But we really do need to find a way around this crisis because if nothing changes drastically, then I have a feeling that sometime in the near future there will be no such thing as EMERGING ARTISTS.
Jade Cayton is an (emerging) freelance dance teacher and writer based in the North West – one of many struggling graduates trying to get a grown-up job!
Photo by Flickr user [Duncan] under a Creative Commons licence.