The Paying Artists Campaign has found that, of artists who have exhibited in publicly-funded galleries in the past few years, 71% have received no fee. Alongside this, two thirds of working artists reported to the campaign that they had had to turn down requests from galleries to exhibit their work because they couldn’t afford to do it without being paid.
Of course, there is a strong and valuable tradition of supporting practice through part-time work, but as wages feel the squeeze and the cost of living goes up, artists are having to work longer hours to make ends meet. The pressure to earn enough to survive, as well as to support the spiralling costs of an art practice – and, for some, the costs of having a family – can become too great. Some artists may leave the field in search of financial security elsewhere. If only artists that can afford to make work for free are getting exposure, well it doesn’t say a lot for diversity, does it?
That’s why a-n (The Artists Information Company) have launched the Paying Artists Campaign, aimed specifically at publicly-funded galleries and organisations. Working with public funders like the Arts Councils of England, Scotland and Wales, the aim is to establish an industry-agreed guideline for exhibition fees.
Paying artists a fee when they exhibit their work in publicly funded galleries won’t eradicate inequality overnight and it won’t become the primary source of income for the majority of artists. But it will be a step in the right direction. It will mean that artists can expect fair recompense when their work is exhibited.
A fee will mean that they can spend less time doing other types of work to earn money, freeing up more time for their practices. In doing so it will contribute to creating a more level playing field, so that anyone, from any background or gender, can more seriously consider becoming an artist.
Sign up to find out more about the campaign at payingartists.org.uk where you can also download the Artists’ Campaign Pack. Or join the debate on Twitter with #PayingArtists
Words: Julie McCalden & Pippa Koszerek