Money Talks: A Survey for Artists, about Money

We’re doing a brief survey for artists to talk about their experiences dealing with money in the independent theatre and dance sector. Here our Director of Research Tanuja Amarasuriya talks about why.


Money talks

Let’s talk about money.

It’s not the principal topic of conversation we have with artists at TB, but it’s always circling the topspot.

It’s hard to talk about money because: it’s personal, and political. It’s entangled with notions of value and power. It concerns practical survival, and professional status. It matters more to some people than to others. It feels a bit dirty. It feels like there must a right way to do it and when you think you’ve doneit wrong… it can feel embarrassing – or frightening and downright dangerous, because you’ve got rentand bills and other responsibilities. Besides, you’re doing it for the love of it right? Hmmmm…

Well, yeah. It’s complicated. But it matters (always circling that top spot) and team TB has never been afraid of the complicated.

So, let’s talk about money.

I did a straw poll in the office, asking what money issues seemed particularly current from the conversations our Artist Support Associates have been having, and the quick fire responses were:

  • Some artists and producers refusing unpaid work but others doing that work for free, thereby making companies feel like they can get away with not paying for that work.
  • Artists are increasingly struggling to negotiate any fee at all for production or touring, which makes it harder to show match investment as leverage in funding applications.
  • There is a growing culture of organisations offering only in-kind support as their “partnership”offer. This is especially tough for artists who are just starting out and trying to make a case for their first funding grants from organisations like Arts Council England.
  • There is a lack of industry guidance around fees, especially for collaborative and cross-artform projects, or those with unconventional processes.
  • No-one knows when or how to raise fees, because any industry guidance that is available focuses on minimum rates.
  • There is not enough conversation about pay equality, especially in relation to freelance fees. If the gender and ethnic pay gap is well documented in employed work, it may very well be the case in freelance work too.
  • If you’re an artist, then you have a need to make work. It’s soul-destroying when you can’t. This isn’t sentimental or flippant. Most of us probably do some work for free because it’s better than not doing it at all. But ultimately those people who can least afford to make art, will be forced out of the industry and our cultural identity will get increasingly rarefied and unrepresentative.

A lot of this comes down to having permission, feeling confident and feeling empowered to talk about money in terms of what YOU need and how YOU value your work. There is a lot of unhelpful generalisation and a lack of transparency about how budgets are calculated and what the real costs of making and presenting are for both artists and venues.

We can’t solve everything at once, but we’d like to try and develop some practical toolkits that might make these money conversations easier. One thing we’ll do is start pulling together links to existing industry guidelines on fees (starting with the excellent resources available from the Independent Theatre Council). Where these don’t exist we’ll dig around for examples of good practice.

We want to know what would be most helpful to you so we’ve put together a brief survey. If you’ve got a few minutes to give this, we’d really appreciate your responses. Thanks.