A Working Creative

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The Friday the 24th July zoom meeting of the Cumbria Arts and Culture Network, prompted me to share a few ideas around a working creative.

A discussion was focused around paying artists fairly for their time. I think the debate is slightly wider about supporting creative folk to make a living. There are several aspects at play here, all of which intertwine with each other to make it difficult to make a living in the creative sector as a freelance worker.

I describe myself as a creative entrepreneur, I run leadership development and coaching programmes, I am a freelance nature photographer, and I collaborate with others on creative projects.

I prefer the title working creative to professional artist, I attempt to make a living using my creativity to earn enough money to have a reasonable income. Incidentally I also set my self the equal aims of enjoying that work and working with clients who respect me.

To start with we need pathways to progression, so however and whenever an individual’s creativity emerges they feel there is a supportive arena to give it a go, be creative, enjoy the challenge of whatever their chosen medium is. Only with many entry points will talent flourish and individuals progress if they want to, to look to make a living or earn some extra income from a part time creative role. All these approaches are equally valid.

If the creative person embarks on a journey to attempt to make a living, they need to be realistic. Is it possible to do the creative stuff I want to and to make a living? In England at the moment that is a difficult task. The market is pretty crowded, there are lots of creative people.

Additionally some ‘creative’ folk will sell their work at less than is economically viable, i.e. they don’t need to make a living. They may have retired and have a pension, they may have a partner who supports them. This selling of work at less than an economic rate, undermines the market value of artists attempting to make a living. So I would encourage any creative who wants to sell work to sell it at a market rate, one where actually you could make a living if you sold enough of your product or service.

As artists, I think we have to develop a fun, resilient mindset, where we know our own value. I am allowed to give my time away for free (volunteer).

I am also allowed to refuse if someone asks me to do something for free….’ A simple line, ‘thanks for the opportunity, I’m tending to concentrate my efforts and creativity where I get paid for that work’ would probably make the point without being too confrontational.

As artists we can be savvy about what is happening, we can do this by joining relevant supportive networks, by having a presence on social media channels like twitter , follow the larger organisations and hopefully catch their tweets of opportunities. As networks we can employ people to trawl these opportunities and share them equitably, that is what we do at EVAN (Eden Valley Artistic network).

Then if we move to commissioned work, i.e. an organization wants to buy an artist’s services, products or pay them to lead a project. Clearly organisations should pay a fair market rate, most do. As an artist we can say no if the rate isn’t what we think we are worth.

All organisations will have their favourite artist’s, people they trust have worked with before, but if the commission is from public money, then those opportunities should be advertised equitably. By that I think there should be at least two weeks notice of a deadline probably 3. That the opportunity should be widely advertised, in Cumbria the CACN face book page is a very easy, quick win, and also details sent to the established artists networks would mean most artists who were interested would have the opportunity to apply.

Artists need to understand (and most of us do) that often this is a competitive process, often we will be rejected, often the feedback will be limited. We have to understand that, look to our networks for support and believe in ourselves, not to lose our confidence in what we want to do. We need to understand that the process may be based on personalities, biased, even when deemed fair, or actually quite fair but that there were just lots of artists who wanted to do the work.

Additionally, application processes for individuals and smaller organisations need to be simplified, if they are complex they give an unfair advantage to larger organisations with full time paid members of staff and the hierarchical system will be maintained!

I hope this helps, it is how I see the world.


Text and photographs copyright © Simon Whalley

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