Valuing our Art Form

Why is it that as artists we are too quick to offer our skills for free?  

This is something that I’ve been considering a lot lately, especially in the context of Performing Arts. On a regular basis I see artists not only competing with each other, but willing to drop their fees for performances, classes and even in some cases offering those classes for free. Honestly, I often feel conflicted by this, because I am fully aware that my staff do not get paid as much as I would like to pay them and as much as they deserve, because of the industry we are in. So I’m writing this blog, from a place and wanting it to be different and already starting to implement what I speak about in my own performance world and performing arts company. But I hold my hands up and say that ‘It’s still not how I would like it to be’…But I’m on the road to it, and this is what I’m learning:
I’m all for making performing arts accessible to everyone, the objectives of A Mind Apart are exactly this, and the base of everything we do comes back to accessibility. But to me that doesn’t mean that I should devalue the training, experience and skills of my staff, and the track record of the company itself. In order for us to be able to deliver our community work we are not reliant on funding, we are reliant on contract driven work with local authorities, schools and our professional workshops. We need this money to be able to invest in our community work and in turn keep our class prices reasonable and competitive. But when it comes to the contract work and workshops, I never undersell what we offer. Our charges are based on what it takes to plan and deliver that session, and then the skills, training and expertise of the individual(s) running it. We are too quick to devalue ourselves within the arts industry, by not charging what we should be. On top of this we then complain that there is no money in the arts! Of course there isn’t we are constantly allowing people to have our skills for free or next to nothing. But doesn’t that lose what art is about? Well yes maybe to some extent it does, and maybe one day we won’t be struggling anymore and we will be able to give it away for free again. But right now we need to save the arts, because the Government isn’t about to. To do that we need to accept that we are businesses, and that rehearsing, training, practicing our art form behind closed doors is our preparation work for when we are in the public eye…and that takes time, and time costs money! When we realise this, we’ll be able to put food on our tables and pay the bills without worrying. We’ll be valued and recognised as professionals in what we do. Wouldn’t it be nice to be in this place and then to choose to do good, by occasionally offering our services for free to those causes we believe in. At least then it won’t come from a place of needing to be seen, or scrounging for whatever we can take. Instead it will come from our values and genuine support to the cause.
Before I finish this blog, I would like to point out another thing that is all too common in the arts: ‘Competition’.
It’s time to stop competing and get collaborating! It’s time to support each other and work together. We need to start sharing our skills and resources and stand up together to tell the outside world that we are not for free and we are valuable. Because once we do this, they will start paying us what we deserve. If we all do this, the outside world will have no choice but to pay what we request based on our skills, training and experience. Because the real truth is that they can’t live without art, because it’s a reflection of themselves, of us as a society, and of the world around them. And society needs art to make sense of all of the world.
Even though I take this stance from a performing arts point of view it needs to be taken hold of within all art. It’s time for us to take a stance and start valuing ourselves for what we are worth. I personally did not spend thousands on my training, train with some of the best, work abroad, still continue to develop my skills to be paid next to nothing for what I do. You wouldn’t expect to have a solicitors advice for free or a Graphic designer to design a website for free..so why do people expect us to do our PROFESSION for free? This is our job we have devoted our life to it, it’s time to start realising this!…And I say this not only to you the reader, but also to myself the writer! Let’s do it together!

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