I’ve never met anybody who is an artist or works in the arts because they are motivated by money, but I know a hell of a lot of people for whom money – or rather than lack of it – is the biggest frustration in terms of what they can do artistically. That why I think money matters – too often it’s the tail than wags the dog, dictating what we can do, when and how.
Since beginning my career as a curator, and then moving into the arts funding system, I’ve long been fascinated by the question of how artists can be enabled (or enable themselves) to make artistically ambitious work by public institutions. My first task at London Art Board was to manage research into what support artists’ needed to develop their careers, and I even spent four LONG years researching a part-time PhD on the subject of how public patronage has had an impact on sculpture. So me and this question have history…
Sadly, despite fifteen years of my career looking into ways to generate money for artists and arts organisations in creative ways, I’ve not yet discovered any magical solution to increase supply of funds. And – as we are all very aware – things are not getting any easier in any part of the UK economy in the foreseeable future.
However what I have ‘discovered’ is that many organisations – and individuals – are able to combine earning or raising sufficient income with doing what they feel they need to do artistically or more widely. Sometimes that is through being smart about what they sell (and to whom). Sometimes that’s about being very bloody efficient and smart in how they use resources (this of course appeals to my Yorkshire-tight-fistedness). Sometimes that’s about thinking laterally about how you go about doing the things that matter to you.
Research I undertook with over 350 artists on behalf of Artquest in 2009 discovered that only 5% felt they had the money they needed to make work.
In addition, the research highlighted some startling results:
- 66% made less than £15,000 per annum.
- 48% made their primary income from non-arts related work.
- Only 16% sold artworks (that could be because they don’t make ‘things’ to sell, or that no-one is buying).
That’s why we’ve set up Money Talks – a new project which I’m involved in – along with Holly Tebbutt – designed to help artists take control of their financial (and therefore artistic) destiny.
In many ways the aims of the project are not dissimilar to MMM’s Capital Matters programme, of NCVO’s Sustainable Funding Project (and we’ll be drawing on these resources) but there are a couple of key differences:
1. Artists don’t usually see a distinction between their personal and professional finances. Artists don’t often think of themselves as businesses or take a strategic approach to their finances in the way that an organisation is more likely to (for example we found less then half of artists surveyed planned their finances more than a year in advance). It can also make talking about money more difficult as it’s about personal finance in many cases which can make sharing experiences feel uncomfortable.
2. Whereas non-profit arts organisations have to balance mission and money, for an artist the tension between earning income and making work can feel more precarious. The myth of the ‘starving artist’ – perpetuating the notion that great art comes at great personal cost – doesn’t do anyone any favours and the ultimate artistic insult of ‘selling out’ says it all about the anxiety that can arise around money and success.
My role on the project is to develop some introductory guides to funding issues for artists which will be published in Artquest’s updated website in the Autumn. You can contribute to shaping this content – and share your ideas and views about the issues via the Money Talks ning which also hosts a series of guest blogs by artists and leading cultural thinkers about money matters. We look forward to your ideas and feedback.