No one should have to work for free, writes Susan Jones, but most UK galleries don't pay a fee to exhibiting artists
• 63% of artists turn down exhibition offers due to pay
• 71% of artists don't get a fee for publicly-funded exhibitions
• Find out more about the Paying Artists campaign
In many other countries it's taken as read that artists get a fee when showing work in publicly-funded exhibitions. In Poland, for example, artists are paid a fee linked directly to the average working wage and can negotiate from there. In Norway, they are paid according to number of works and duration of the exhibition; in Canada, artists' rights for payment when their work is used in exhibitions are legally enshrined.
The UK is a different kettle of fish. Contrary to public expectation, but not the experience of many in the sector, most UK galleries do not pay exhibiting artists. In the past three years, 71% of artists didn't get a fee for contributions to publicly-funded exhibitions. And this culture of non-payment is actually stopping artists from accepting offers from galleries, with 63% forced to reject gallery offers because they can't afford to work for nothing.
No one should have to work for free, but that's just part of the issue. If economic circumstances mean there are fewer artists able to exhibit their work, we the policy-makers, funders, galleries and the gallery-going public risk severing the pipeline of talent on which we depend. If that happens, we lose the precious diversity and innovation that makes visual arts in the UK so well respected.
The Paying Artists campaign aims to do what it says on the tin by working with galleries, funders, policy-makers, artists and the public to challenge the status quo. We've identified five key steps to achieving this.
1. Encouraging galleries to be open about their payment policies
Being open and frank about current gallery policies is the vital starting point for the debate needed to make paying artists a reality. Greater transparency will highlight the good practice that does exist around the UK and help other galleries to see how they too can overcome barriers and make the case for paying artists in their own venues.
A good example is Fabrica in Brighton. The visual arts organisation spends around £30,000 per commission, with fees to each artist between £2,000 and £6,000 plus expenses. Artists also get full technical support, installation, promotion, marketing and an accompanying education programme.
Highlighting examples like Fabrica are important in the campaign, but no two galleries are the same and we need to promote solutions that work across a range of settings. At the end of the day, artists and galleries can't exist without each other; it's in all our interests to be pragmatic and collaborative.
2. Creating national policy and guidance on paying artists
The whole issue of fees for artists needs to be set within a policy framework so that it's enshrined in the way everyone in the visual arts sector does things. Proper national policy and guidance will drive and sustain the issue, making sure it doesn't become a passing phase.
What does the government get out of it? Besides preserving the £1.9bn that the visual arts contributes to the national economy, it will be tackling inequality and demonstrating how, like never before, it is delivering real value for the money that tax payers invest in the arts by encouraging the broadest possible range of quality art.
3. Including pay policy in funding agreements
Major funders including Arts Council England (ACE), Creative Scotland and the Arts Council of Wales play a critical role in encouraging publicly-funded galleries to pay artists by setting pay policy requirements into funding agreements. By encouraging galleries to adopt these policies, funders are supporting their own goals for excellence and resilience in the arts, ensuring diversity across the arts workforce, and supporting accessibility of the arts for all.
The argument isn't falling on deaf ears. Even before the campaign's launch, ACE chair Peter Bazalgette tweeted his support, so signs are encouraging.
4. Research into payment of visual artists
Our own detailed research tells us a lot about the payment of artists in the UK today. As well as being frequently unpaid for their work with galleries, we know they are making an average of just £10,000 a year from their creative practice. We know too that they have suffered a £6,000 drop in real income since 1997, making it harder to be a serious artist and spend enough time on research and making new work.
A national review of the economic contribution of visual artists, the role artists play and the impact of no, or low, pay on their livelihoods will create a deeper understanding of the issues that artists and public sector galleries face. It will put the weight of government behind the whole issue, making sure that it's more than artists and their membership organisations who promote solutions and ensure sustainability in the visual arts.
5. Giving artists the tools to make their own case
Our own studies also show how visual artists – especially emerging ones and those not commercially represented – can lack the confidence needed to negotiate for themselves. It's not always this uncertainty; the culture of non-payment is so deeply ingrained in the artist/gallery relationship that many artists know nothing else. As one gallery in our study reported: "from my experience, artists usually don't ask for a fee. They don't have expectations."
The Paying Artists campaign will show how artists, just like teachers, surgeons or plumbers, have every right to expect payment for the work they do. It will empower them to stand up and expect payment by providing them the toolkits and negotiation techniques they need, and equally importantly, provide galleries with frameworks for good practice.