Are we though? Is the arts worth saving? Over the last ten to twelve years in the U.K, our society has been nurtured continuously to devalue a creative purpose. From governments to funding it is becoming increasingly difficult to sustain a living wage as an artist. Even though I believe we continue to deliver so much to communities, culture, the economy and individual lives.
Not everyone feels this way but it is compounding at times as an artist when you know that the work that goes into bringing your creativity to life is worth so much more than it’s valued at.
Magic is invisible
There is no one singular reason why society might have a whimsical view of the arts. Perhaps it’s because we as artists sing and shout about our performances which clearly demonstrate professionalism and is enjoyed by all who witness it. However, the journey that we take to get to a finished product is never really discussed or displayed. I suppose that in itself is the real magic of creation.
Developing a skill and love for an art form takes time and we are all at different levels offering different activities. Yet, as artists; bookers and funders seem to want to bunch us all into the same category even if what we are offering is completely different in style, material and level. For example you wouldn’t expect as a manager of a big company, to be asked to do the same amount of work you do on an entry level salary? Yet this happens in our industry all the time. We are constantly expected to take the same fee as others because well, this is what companies have been told to pay artists as a whole. No matter what you’re doing, how long you are there for, the time travelled to get there – nothing else matters. We are all the same to them.
But I choose to believe that value matters and it really needs to be brought to the fore in our industry and discussed.
Let’s get one thing straight…
We as artists are not the same. (I’m sorry if I burst a few proverbial bubbles here). Yes we share a love for theatre, magic, drama etc but we are all individuals and are entitled to set our fees at what we think we as individuals are worth. And, this estimation should be respected, not questioned.
And, we should not be made to feel guilt for asking for a living wage. For wanting to do what we love for what it is worth. How can art be valued?
Calculating the value of art
Over my years working and touring theatre shows I have a small grasp on what we can base our fee estimation on.
Here are just some ideas below for you to browse. (I’m also happy to add to them if you know of any more let me know).
- Travel / Fuel
- Audience size
- Materials / Sundries
- Yearly billing
When you take a look at these ten things only one of them really can be observed by a booker and used as evidence of what they actually pay for. And that is the live performance itself.
This is where it becomes really hard for us as artists to quantify our fees. Yes customers know what we offer is the best, that’s why they’ve chosen to hire us. But sometimes they do not have the funds to pay for it or feel that this artistic endeavour for their event deserves it from their budget.
In my experience it is always us, the artists who must compromise to be hired. Even though we do the same amount of work for less pay What’s the option? To work or not to work?
Put your money where your mouth is…
Maybe this is not the case around the world, but it’s what I have found in the U.K so I’m asking you all this very serious question.
Why do artists dislike talking about fee’s? It has somehow became a taboo subject in our industry. And it doesn’t need to be. Imagine if we could all sit down in groups and talk money honestly and openly. How much our industry would gain a proper understanding of our own value in it.
One of the problems preventing us from fixing this issue is that I feel there is no set bottom level to pricing art.
If we the professionals set an opening fee level in each art-form and stick to it as an individuals together in the same industry (rather than customers dictating our fees) I believe this will help move the industry and business a step in the right direction to be taken more seriously.
We should actively aim to implement value where there is none. Or there are too many options. It’s extremely important that we mustn’t undercut one another. There is so much work out there for everyone. The more you share it the more will come back your way. I truly believe that and always have. In undermining each other eventually we cut off our own heads to spite our faces.
Think about it if a customer is hunting for the cheapest fee and everyone they call is charging the same base fee what does that make them do?
It means that they must begin to search for a entertainer not on a money level but an artistic one. Just some food for thought. And on that note…
An amplified situation
The result of the Arts industry breaking down due to the current pandemic is that I have felt obligated to say yes to work for a fraction of the fee I normally charge. Why? Because I have no work on at all. And when you are struggling to survive and continue doing what you love, you would do absolutely anything! Well, I would.
Sadly, some people know that this is currently a bad situation for performers and use this to their advantage.
My sister suggested that I maybe try find a way to show the effort that goes into creating my work and why it’s unique from others. Showcasing the process of making the magic happen in real time.
So in true Nikola fashion I spent this week putting together a short video for potential people questioning why something I valued at what it is. So they can actually see the work live, that they don’t when I am live. (Wow what a sentence).
I want people to see the effort that I put in, the professionalism, the years I’ve trained and know that I do this because I really love what I do. I want my work to the best in the business because it’s mine. It’s my full time job. In taking what I do seriously, I want others to treat me and my business seriously too. What that means is paying me a fee that I deserve and have worked really hard for.
It hasn’t as of yet but I realised this week that if it ever came to a stage where I was not valued for what I create and I am made to feel guilty in every enquiry I get for what I charge, I would simply have to stop performing. No matter how sad that thought makes me.
I feel value and its impact on the arts is such an important thing in arts business that needs to be dealt with asap! And, I feel that it will play a major part in saving the arts and keeping theatre alive long after 2020!
I also wanted to say I have learnt during this time that sometimes providing work for a lower fee can provide you with an outlet to try new things. It gives you the freedom to experiment with equipment, materials and new effects knowing that it’s not at the standard/level yet you would normally expect to provide for your full fee. If you begin thinking about it in this way, during this tough period, as long as you are learning and developing as an artist and you are in control of your time then it is worth it. (If only for a limited period).