“The artist is always the one squeezed. I am sure venues will say that they are squeezed too… so stop with the false economy, be realistic with your funders about what their investment gets them, stop bowing down. BUT my concern is that the artists voice is the one with the least power but the one vital to keep art alive…so this is essentially bullying to keep bigger businesses afloat. “ – Bryony Kimmings
In November 2013 a live artist Bryony Kimmings wrote a blog post on a few key issues faced by many artists like herself: in midcareer, considered relatively successful in the field and yet still struggling to meet the ends. In this blog post, Kimmings clearly outlines her own financial conditions, a detailed breakdown of what and why she charges for her work, and the challenges of getting a fair compensation. Her blog post especially addressed the issue of artist vs. venue in funding that there is a sense of false economy, which devalues the work of artists and puts them at a disadvantage.
Her blog post was especially important in that it created a space to talk openly about the financial issues faced by artists and organisations, which will be discussed later.
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2. Who is Bryony Kimmings ?
Bryony Kimmings is an award wining live artist based in the East Regions. Her work can be described as experimental theatre, which combines elements of theatre, music, installations and film. She is known for her autobiographical works and she has been featured in Edinburgh Festival Fringe, Soho Theatre, etc.
Read more at: http://www.bryonykimmings.com/
Sustainability of working as a freelance artist
Kimmings is a self-employed artist and she emphasises on the fact that she has no regular funding. While she receives about half of her annual income (about £
22,800 per annum in 2013) from the Arts Council England, the rest comes from several different streams such as office work, mentoring, performance, workshop and other forms of support. Gigs and tours are also important sources of income for Kimmings, however this is where she struggles the most in terms of money. Some of the struggles listed are:
- Price negotiations between her charges based on what it actually costs to put on a show and what the venue is willing/able to pay
- Expectations of the venues that she would find ways to cover her own cost
- Box office splits and the gamble of losing money if the show does not sell, on top of having to cover her own costs
- Managing a successful relationship with the Arts Council on her own terms – in response to venues expecting her to apply for more funding
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3. Alternative perspectives
As artists are struggling, venues also face financial difficulties. Venues often have core-running costs that they need to cover, some are also constrained by funding agreements, and most importantly, cutting costs becomes an unavoidable reality when faced with unfavorable economic circumstances. While paying the artists what it actually costs would be the fairest way of compensation, many venues tend to employ cheaper ways of paying the artists. Box office split is one model, where artists also take on ticket sales responsibility in return for technical and logistic support provided by the venue. Another common model is to have guaranteed fee, where some support as well as some financial compensations are provided to the visiting artists while they would still be expected to find more funding sources. Fair compensation becomes difficult when cutting costs becomes a priority.
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As money goes to support more experienced artists, who like Kimmings have an already established relationship with the funding bodies, the emerging artists are left with very little financial support to contribute to the field and to make a living out of their craft. While it is a safer bet for funding bodies to support whom they already know, but it also creates an environment that discourages those with fresh ideas to enter the field.
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4. Implications and moving forward
From the discussion that took place, it is a general consensus among the arts community that there is a need for a fundamental shift in the way arts funding and artist-venue relationships are handled. Here are some of the suggestions provided by Kimmings and other artists who took part in meetings:
- Establishing basic standards and guidelines of best practices
- Encouraging transparency between venues and artists on budgeting and allocation of subsidies
- Figuring out a better way of working together and fostering mutual understandings of costs, business models and challenges
- Sharing knowledge between artists, venues and arts councils
- Taking collective actions and having the artists voice heard (artists as stakeholders of arts organisations)
More info at: http://illshowyoumine.org/
Question 1. How do we create the economic valuation of art? Is it based on its cultural and aesthetic values (subjective) or can it also be valued based on its production cost (clearly defined)?
Question 2. Should name-shaming of venues who ‘de-value’ artists work in compensation be an accepted practice amongst artists?
Question 3. Do you think economical self-sacrifice and volunteering are an unavoidable aspect of working in the arts?