We Need to Talk About Money!

No-one in their right minds goes into the arts for the money, but so many artists remain in the dark about the financial aspects of the arts – whether they can ask to be paid, whether they can sell their work and, if so, for how much.  But what if you don’t want to sell your work?  What if your work is intangible?  What if it doesn’t sit neatly within a consumable mass-experience for which you buy a ticket?  The artists should still expect to get paid, right?

Some artists see money as a negative influence too corrupting to contemplate, just the first step in a slippery slope of compromise.  Some are too embarrassed to ask for money, especially in these times of austerity when the arts really has to prove its worth in the face of cuts to social services.  But let’s not kid ourselves – there will always be other priorities.  ALWAYS!  If we want an arts and culture sector that truly represents contemporary society then we need to make sure artists are paid.  That’s how we open access in the arts to individuals from under-represented communities and prevent it from becoming the exclusive enclave of the middle class voice. 

I guess my own working class roots frames my perspective of arts and culture as an industry like any other that needs to pay its workers, but, if we want an arts and culture sector that sings out with a choir of voices from all corners of our society; one in which a talented individual from our most under-represented communities can view the arts as a legitimate career choice; one that’s relevant to our daily lives; one that provides balance to the tiresome press narrative centred around the financial excesses of Banksy, Emin and Hirst, then we need to eliminate the financial obstacles to widening engagement.  That’s how we reinforce the sense of who we are as a society, explore who we are becoming and envision who we want to be.  Austerity or no, we have to remind ourselves that the arts can be worth the investment.

Art and Culture should be living, breathing, and resonating with all our voices.  Let’s collectively shrug off the reactionary rush to judgement the press would have us make about its comparative value to other aspects of society’s needs, remove the guilt from asking to be paid.  Money is the oil in the machinery; fertiliser to the garden of ideas, the fuel to the fire of social change; it’s essential to the development of an arts sector that reflects and makes sense to the general public; to creating art that talks to them in their own language; to developing an art that’s relevant, art with a social purpose that intersects with people within their daily lives and sparks debate, imagination, excitement, appreciation, participation, appetite.

Let’s revive our cultural life with a welcome back for all those voices the last ten years of austerity has sought to eliminate.  Galleries, Curators, Festivals, Councils, Universities, Libraries, Museums, Venues… it’s time to cough up!

Barry Hale

Busking outside Damian Hirst’s gaff