Money Talks: an update on the freelancers’ survey

TB’s Director of Research gives an update on what we’re doing with responses to the anonymous Money Talks survey for independent artists and producers we ran last month.

Money Talks Survey: first thoughts

Last month we opened up a rough and ready survey about money. A major THANK YOU to everyone who gave their time to contribute responses – it’s very very appreciated. It’ll take us a little while to collate the survey findings into a format we can publish, but we’ll do that as soon as we can.

The survey was a speedy way for us to find out what feels important to people right now, and identify where to focus more in depth research towards action. Whilst we’re waiting for those pie charts an’ all to get drawn up, I thought I’d flag up the headlines that are coming through from my initial reading of the responses.

We had 95 responses. Most were partial, and 45 completed the whole survey. Most of those who responded were from Bristol and the South West. 71% of responders earned 90-100% of their personal income from working in the arts.

When we asked about people’s biggest money challenges, a clear majority said that “being paid properly for the work you do” was the biggest challenge; followed pretty evenly by “paying for production at the scale and ambition you’re aiming for” and “meeting your living costs whilst maintaining your artistic practice.”

Being paid properly for the work you do” seems to be a key theme in the responses. Of course, “properly” is a relative term, and the call for fairness is what very eloquently emerges from so many of the responses.

“Good practice? Never. Fair practice always.”
response in answer to the question: where have you experienced good practice in terms of pay and financial support.

The notion of fairness – or the lack of it – comes up loads in the responses. Some people find it acceptable to work unpaid if the whole team is working unpaid. On the other hand, what comes up repeatedly is a frustration at being asked to meetings and consultations where freelancers are not offered payment for time, whilst salaried folk are on salaried time.

When it comes to how people understand good practice, there are lots of simple, practical things that independents are seeking out: clarity of expectation, contracts issued in good time, prompt payment, being paid at a rate that reflects the skill and experience you bring. Simple things which should be happening as a matter of course. But the fact that there’s repeated mention of all of these things in the survey responses, suggests that even these basic things can’t be relied on.

The difference between how (often regularly funded, staffed) organisations operate compared to (usually project-by-project funded, freelance) independent artists and producers operate comes up time and again as a dissonance. In particular, the fact that you can’t cover the costs of pulling together an Arts Council application within the project costs. And let’s not forget how much work that can be: developing the idea, negotiating partnerships and match funding, and then writing the thing…

Lots of these points will be familiar to people who work in our industry. And the danger of course with that familiarity, is that bad practice becomes normalised. We’re often creating new work, new processes, and new collaborations; so of course we’ll make mistakes along the way. The vital thing is that we recognize those failures and try to rectify them next time round, rather than accepting and repeating bad practice as simply par for the course.

“A help sheet wouldn’t help with the main problems I am facing! It’s larger organisations that need the help in realising their responsibilities better.”
response in answer to: What help sheets would be most useful to you right now?

So many responses describe feeling like venues and organisations expect everything from the artist and provide very little support and backing in return. There’s a sense that venues and organisations are increasingly reliant on artists to provide marketing, administration, and additional funding – on top of the art. There’s a clear sense that artists are feeling significant pressure to do more, for less money (despite being an already poorly paid workforce).

This initial survey invited people who identified as independent to respond. We need to get the perspective of people working within organisations too.

Surely we’re aiming for the same goals, in terms of making the art the best it can be and connecting it with the broadest audiences? So surely we all have a vested interest in resolving these frustrations.