Valuing artists.

by Alex from Maybe ( ) Together

I talk about this a lot, I know.

And I too am passionate about education, refugees, indigenous issues, women’s rights, the voice of the child and all those other hot topics at the moment. And I talk about them too.
But I am also an artist.
And I want the next generation to be valued in Australia.
Which is why I speak out, because I know I’m not going to see the change in my creative career-span.

There have been a few incidents in the last few weeks.
So am going to collate them here:

1) The greens launched an arts policy.

An arts policy launched during an election campaign! Of course, it won’t swing any votes, but it was hopeful.
And I thought I’d start with something hopeful.

2) Melbourne was named “most liveable city” which took into its account CULTURE but not COST OF LIVING.

Did you know that artists make a city more liveable? This is why many of us are moving out of inner melbourne. It’s called gentrification – and happens all over the world due to impacts of females, gay communities and artists. This article highlights to me where Australia places it’s emphasis in comparison to world standards.

3) I did two tax returns.
One showed that I earned about $11,000 in 2011/12, and a (better) $30,000 in 12/13 (which includes $13,000 through NEIS). He then charged me $611 for what will probably be 3 hrs work in total for him – and yes, he is was an “artist friendly” accountant.
I don’t blame him so much for charging that much (I actually was impressed at his ability to charge this much after this news and not bat an eyelid) and feel I should take a few pointers –  it just reminded me how underpaid we are.

4) The Melbourne Festival has a significant increase in Melbourne works programmed. I had assumed this meant that they had begun investing in Melbourne artists. However, this week The Rabble are launching their first ever Pozible Campaign for $5,000 to assist in funding their Melbourne Festival work.

I think the Rabble are amazing. As are the other companies involved in Melbourne Festival, which was why I was so happy to see them programmed. However, I think these arrangements that MF (and other organisations too) makes is bordering on exploitation.
I know its “good exposure” – but are we really going to accept this all the way up the food chain? Where arts managers, producers, ticketing agencies etc all get paid a decent salary – but we don’t?

To change deals like this, we need a cultural shift.

5) This book came out, and suggested an arts strike in Australia. It also suggests that arts managers should have an option to salary sacrifice 5% of their earnings. (other points are summarised here)

I think this is what upsets me the most: when standard artist fees are calculated at a rate that is so much lower than arts managers. It concerns me how much arts funding goes towards organisations, towards marketing, towards salaries, towards their PD etc, that there is nothing left to pay the artists they promote.  They are the ones that get meetings and paid to meet with all the funding bodies, sponsors, private donors and act as spokes people for us.

I am probably more attuned to this than most artists as I used to be on the other fence – working fulltime in government arts. I can definitely say that the culture makes you forget about how much you are being paid in comparison to artists. And you are concerned at getting as much squeezed out of your budget as possible. (of course not everyone is like this, but it is tempting for any arts manager)

We are often paid an “hourly rate”. And, sure, I’m getting better at making this liveable. But I’d also like to share this:

“Picasso is sitting in the park, sketching.
A woman walks by, recognizes him, runs up to him and pleads with him to draw her portrait. He’s in a good mood, so he agrees and starts sketching.
A few minutes later, he hands her the portrait. The lady is ecstatic, she gushes about how wonderfully it captures the very essence of her character, what beautiful, beautiful work it is, and asks how much she owes him.
$5,000, madam, says Picasso.
The lady is taken aback, outraged, and asks how that’s even possible given it only took him 5 minutes.
Picasso looks up and, without missing a beat, says: No, madam, it took me my whole life.  ”
From Brain Pickings (also a good read)

We are one of the worlds most liveable cities.
The arts is a significant part of this.
F***ing act like it.