There is widespread acknowledgement that those engaged in the arts/cultural sector as employees or freelance workers are underpaid for the amount of work they do. In recent years the perception of unfair levels of remuneration and working conditions often considered as verging on exploitative, as well as the inability to achieve a work-life balance, has prompted more workers in the sector to complain of ‘burnout’ or leave the sector altogether.
Arts Professional conducted a survey of arts pay which revealed that low pay is prevalent at many levels. Its Arts Pay 2018 Survey indicated that 40% of those at an early stage of their careers earnt less than GB£ 20,000 pa, while 60% of those reported as working at a senior level in the arts said they earnt less than GB£ 30,000. Moreover, the survey confirmed that salaries are not only low in comparison with other industries, but take little account of unpaid duties that staff are often compelled to do in their ‘own’ time. Inevitably, this is especially evident in smaller organisations. Although remuneration in London tends to be higher than elsewhere, the cost of living in the Capital is making the arts profession a career choice primarily for those from more affluent families. New recruits in particular are poorly paid. According to research conducted by the Visitor Experience Forum and BOP Consulting on museums, galleries and other visitor attractions, 39% of respondents paid new recruits at entry levels below the Living Wage. Internships in the arts, whether or not linked to academic obligations, are typically unpaid, but undertaken by young people keen to gain experience to establish a career in the cultural sector.
There are also social inequalities related to class, gender, ethnicity etc. according to Panic!, a report published in 2018. Nevertheless, the Arts Pay 2018 Survey suggested that although individuals from working class backgrounds were significantly underrepresented in the arts workforce, once they start working in the sector, their social class was unlikely to be a real obstacle to progression.
Arts Council Wales has indicated that it will enforce minimum pay rates for artists engaged by organisations it funds.Arts Council England has not yet committed itself to enforcement, but expects the organisations it supports to show that the fees paid to artists and professionals are in line with or above guidelines set by relevant trade unions or employer bodies. Organisations employing freelance workers should at least pay the National Living Wage for anyone over 25. However, the trade union Equity has accused ACE of being too lax by not challenging cases of low pay in theatre. The Charity Commission now requires all charities in England and Wales, including arts/cultural organisations, to disclose staff remuneration.
There is increasing concern about the wellbeing of staff due to long hours, hard work and pressure. Even when compensatory time off is theoretically available, the volume of work often means employees are unable to take advantage of it. Mental health issues are becoming more evident in the sector in areas such as music. This has led to the establishment of the National Arts Wellbeing Collective, a network to exchange experiences and share best practice. A survey by Parents and Carers in the Performing Arts and Birkbeck, University of London, found that four in every ten people who quit careers in the performing arts do so because of difficulties balancing work with being a parent. The Balancing Act survey, conducted in 2018, questioned more than 2,000 current or former arts workers (of which 1,000 were parents and carers) who indicated challenges trying to maintain arts careers.
Although the creative and cultural sector has been growing faster than the wider UK economy, this has not been reflected in the income of many artists and creators. For example, Arts Professional revealed in 2015 that the average commission for a composer had fallen by GB£ 6,000 in real terms since 1997. There was little surprise when a report from ACE on the Livelihoods of Visual Artists revealed that only one-third of their income stream came from producing art (see also chapter 3.4). This research found that women represented a larger proportion of visual artists than men, but the latter were more likely to be among the more established group of artists and also to generate more income from the practice. An a-n/AIR Paying Artists Campaign in 2016 revealed that 63% of artists had refused an exhibition opportunity because of affordability.
ACE has introduced a new fund for artists, curators, producers and other creators worth up to GB£ 10,000 p.a. to give them time to research, develop new ideas, experiment, undertake training, collaborate or network. The Develop your Creative Practice fund bears some similarity to grants to ‘buy time’ to think or work on ideas that were awarded in the past.