Critical (on Funding)
Artists in the North West of England make less than the national average for artists, who make less than the national average for anyone. Artists, on average make about £16-20,000 per year. Around £6,000 of that is from their art practice, or work related to it. In the North West, most artists earn less than £5,000 from their practice.
An artist receiving a commission is usually offered a set rate. Say that rate is £1,000, the hours calculated by the commissioning gallery will be based on around £12 per hour (83 hours). That’s based on guidance from Artists Union England, Museums Association, and a-n (all suggested sources of guidance from Arts Council England.
Adversely, the curators and producers working with those artists (assuming they’ve been working in a similar role for five years or more) will be on about £16 per hour. The difference being that they’re full time, and their hours are prescribed. So in the two months leading to the commission exhibition, will receive £5k+, while the artist, working part time on the commission, likely working over prescribed hours, and with more pressure on them for the end product, will have worked fairly similar hours, for £1k – of which it is unlikely any went into a pension.
I’m not trying to scare anyone, and in no way am I suggesting art doesn’t pay. It can and it does, but it’s like any cultural sector, in that only a handful make ends meet through their practice. There are around 5000 artists in Merseyside. Each year, the 40 studios and galleries collectively pay around 150 of them.
Of the other 4850 artists, a decent number sell work which pays the bills, and for some is an entire and healthy income.
Music is similar, but for bands and musicians who play circuits it’s less stigmatised to not be part of a studio, so professionalism is judged in different ways, and success isn’t really monetised until you get your break. Performance, again, is similar, but despite there being less performance spaces than visual arts spaces, it’s easier to monetise shows, so there’s an expectation to be paid for your output through ticket sales – not the case for artists. For artists, they are increasingly expected to present their work for free as conceptualism builds momentum in its endeavour to sweep fine art under the rug.
So galleries show project based work, or temporary performance, and some of them will pay, but the independent spaces where artists test their work show products as exhibitions which are free to enter, unsponsored and unfunded. So for artists presenting outside major galleries there’s no clear route to funding. There’s DYCP funding from Arts Council England, which every artist should be applying for, but in the few years that’s existed it’s only granted funding to a handful of Merseyside based artists. Their projects have been exceptional.
The fundamental problem with the system is that it values producers above artists. I write this as both. Knowing that I earn a standard wage as a producer, and less than £2k as an artist in a normal year. I’m fortunate that my production mirrors my practice in many ways, but for many, their wage is unrelated to their practice, and that takes time away from development.
As a minimum, hourly rates for producers and artists need to be equal. But the decision on how those artists work needs to be less prescriptive. Less expectant of already finished work at the point of selection, and allowance for production within budgets.
Words, Patrick Kirk-Smith