Saturday, March 31, 2012

Support the Artists

There is a lot of conversation these days about "supporting the arts". I think many times this becomes an abstraction that loses real meaning. I prefer the more concrete term of "supporting the artists".

After all, it is artists who create art. Yet many times, artists find themselves at the bottom of the financial totem pole. Artists are a sector of the community who often not only don't make a "living wage", they don't even make minimum wage.

There is a prevailing attitude in America that somehow you are rewarding an artist simply by providing the opportunity to create. To perform. To produce. The catchphrases "it will be great for your portfolio!" or "it will be great exposure!" are used over and over.

Artists on a whole have a great deal invested in their art. Besides years or decades of practicing their craft, there are material and studio costs involved. Graphic artists require top-of-the-line computers and software, tending to start in the $3000 range combined, and going up dramatically. Some programs run as high as $5000.

Videographers require not only high end computers and software, but video cameras as well. One can expect to pay $4,000 on up for a quality camera. Cameras with the ability to synch together for two camera coverage are in the $8000 range on up. Each.

Dancers require constant rehearsal to keep their bodies in shape. Choreographers must constantly study the latests whims of the pop entertainment world in order to keep their work current. Dance required significant studio space with specially designed floors and mirrored walls.

Sculptors require huge studio spaces, welding equipment, wood working equipment, and not only mastering the art of creating form, but must also have an engineering mind to build structurally sound sculptures. Materials from urethanes and silicones to stone and bronze are very expensive.

Set designers, lighting designers, costume designers, and technical directors must not only create an immersive environment from the void, but in addition to their design time and hands on fabrication of their creations, they must also attend rehearsals to see their work in progress, taking notes from directors, hearing concerns of actors, and making sure things look how the designer wants.

In a world where plumbers, electricians, waiters, carpenters, bus drivers, and sales clerks would never be told that simply doing their job should be reward enough without regard to monetary compensation, people somehow don't have a problem telling artists that simply the opportunity to work would somehow be "great" for them. Charities often call upon artists to contribute art for auction to support their charity. The irony is that many artists are more in need of support than the beneficiaries of the charitable organization.

I encourage artists to stand up and simply say "No." I encourage you to visit No!Spec. Value your time. Calculate the number of hours you work, and evaluate that at at LEAST minimum wage. Don't forget overtime. That is... if you work 80 hours in a week on a project, that is 40 hours straight time, and 40 hours overtime. If you are getting say, $600 a week and working 80 hours, you are only making six bucks an hour. Many artists make less.

There is a lot of talk about the "creative economy", and how "the arts" are essential to the growth of communities. It is imperative that artists be treated as essential. Change the language, and reality tends to follow. Support the artists.


  1. Amen! Amen! Amen! Arthur, you're right on. Somehow there must be a way to get this out into the right hands - those folks who have the spendable cash to purchase art. After all, it's the buyers that truly support the artist, as most grant-making entities only support arts organizations.

    1. Arts organizations are part of the problem. They are the ones quite often employing artists for below minimum wage. I'll be posting more on this in the future, but I have been witness many times to arts organizations trying to raise money for facilities and equipment, when they can't even pay the people producing their events more than $4.00 an hour. When I've confronted people in management about this, I've been told "nobody does this for the money".

      The attitude is that it is OK to work for crumbs, and to get others to do the same. This needs to change.

  2. Couldn't have said it better myself! Thank you!

    1. That $600/80 hour week deal is real. And I was one of the highest paid.

      I've signed a contract that was ostensibly $8.00 an hour... or $320 a week. Break that down into 100 billable hours (40 straight, plus 40 overtime) and you've got $3.20 an hour. And this was an organization run by the State of Virginia! I wrote a letter of resignation.

      The bitch of it was, that they held back part of the money because I didn't complete my contract, so I got less than the $3.20. I was too lazy to take them to court, and it is still going on today.

  3. I'm glad that more people then me are tired of the bullshit-the real problem is the goverment dosen't respect the arts. They give money to arts organizations and arts organizations give it to the top 10 per cent who have made it in the arts so that they can maintain there lifestyle. They don't see value in what we do, beyond making them look good-a shame and a pity and it needs to stop!!

    1. I think part of the solution is that all organizations receiving grants should be required to keep time sheets on every single worker. When I pointed out to one group that no one was keeping track of time, and really had no idea how much per hour anyone was making, the response was "no one wants to know".

      If you are a funding organization, make it a requirement that anyone receiving your funds provides you with documented hours for all workers. Be part of the solution, not the problem.