Shaan Syed, The Cost of Living, 87.9 × 48 cm, 2014, via artsy.net
How many artists are starving? In the UK, probably most.
According to figures released today by a new campaign called Paying Artists from a-n The Artists Information Company and AIR Artists Interaction and Representation, most artists in the UK cannot support themselves through their art, are not paid for publicly funded exhibitions, and have to turn down gallery requests that don't pay.
Here are the exact numbers according to a survey of more than 1,000 UK artists:
- 71 percent of artists exhibiting in publicly funded galleries received no fee for their work, 59 percent of whom did not even receive payment for their expenses
- 63 percent of artists have had to turn down requests from galleries to exhibit their work because they cannot afford to do so without pay
- 57 percent of artists generate less than a quarter of their income through their art
- 72 percent of artists made less than £10,000 a year from their art practice
These numbers probably aren’t too surprising to anyone who works or has worked a job of the creative persuasion. A similar study done in the United States by Working Artists and the Greater Economy (W.A.G.E.) reported similar findings in 2012, with 58 percent of artists saying they did not receive any form of compensation (including reimbursement for their expenses) for exhibiting their work at non-profit institutions. As Paying Artists notes in their report, there is a pervasive expectation that artists will exhibit their work for free, even paying for the associated costs, under the assumption that “exposure is reward enough.”
As our Andrew Berardini eloquently described in his essay cheekily titled “You Are Free,” on the whole artists want to be generous with their time and talent, even if they can’t afford it. Nobody does it for the money, so the story goes, but that doesn’t mean artists can work for free.
In the UK, Paying Artists tallies visual arts contributing £1.9 billion to the GDP. However, artists’ earnings are the lowest number in the equation. The expectation that artists will exhibit for free, they argue, both “erodes [artists’] ability to produce the art that sustains public galleries and the benefits they bring” and “the diversity that makes visual arts so economically and culturally valuable."
They cite a number of other countries who, through public policy, have ensured artists are compensated for their time. In Canada, for example, artists are entitled to some compensation for exhibiting their work in public exhibitions. In Sweden, the government and the Swedish Artists National Organization agreed on standard compensation rates for exhibitions and related costs. In Poland, artists receive at least a minimum fee corresponding to the average monthly wage.
In their report, Paying Artists details five actions they believe the UK needs to take including setting minimum pay standards, becoming transparent on artists' pay, and completing a government-initiated national review of artists' contribution to the economy and the impact of no or low pay on their livelihoods.