Artists and pay - 20 great info sources

This listing that includes commentary, evidence and advice provides a selected reading list for artists and those who work with them to explore the issues and concerns about artists and pay as part of negotiating the terms of exchange and collaboration. Updated 01/07/2017

Art Workers – Material Conditions and Labour Struggles in Contemporary Art Practice

Presents case studies from the local art contexts of Estonia, Finland and Sweden with artist-testimonies, discussion of activist practices and mapping contemporary and historical forms of organising and activism within the international art field. Analyses the impact and implications of the exhibition fee system (MU), sets out the dichotomy between intrinsic and instrumental approaches to support for artists and usefully concludes with three scenarios for how artists in future might respond to their financial precarity.

Artist Opportunities

Alistair Gentry discusses common types of advertisement for unpaid work in journalism and the visual arts, noting the processes whereby the applicant is expected to make a lengthy and professional application, in a mode that suits the “employer”, at considerable effort to themselves and for an opportunity that is unpaid, but may provide income for the advertiser, who may well also be in receipt of public funds.

Artists’ low income and status are international issues

While some argue that it’s the absence of collective bargaining mechanisms that result in such exploitation – once that’s in place here everything will be fine in terms of pay and conditions, they say – evidence collected by Susan Jones indicates that even in countries where there are well-developed fees systems such as Canada and Sweden, low pay for artists remains the burning issue.

Culture crash: the killing of the creative class

Change is no stranger in the twenty-first century, with constant adjustment to an evolving world, to transformation and innovation. But for many thousands of creative artists, a torrent of recent changes has made it all but impossible to earn a living. Persistent economic recession, social shifts, and technological change have combined to put artists of all kinds out of work. Scott Timberg considers the human cost as well as the unintended consequences and identifies social tensions and contradictions - most concerning the artist's place in society - that have plunged the creative class into a fight for survival.

How are Artists Getting Paid?

Alexis Clements, on Hyperallergic states that “It has become ever more obvious that virtually none of the money that flows into major arts institutions, companies that distribute creative content, and art markets actually reaches the artists who generate the work.” Discusses five modes of activism that have changed labour relations in the past.

How to Earn a Living as an Artist

Action Hero’s 17 tips on how to earn a living as an artist, without compromising your principles or your art. “Start with the art, then design a way to make it pay”.

If other professions were paid like artists…

Why do so many artists get asked to work for free, so often? And what's the best way for an artist to deal with these requests, and ensure they're financially secure and their work is valued? Michelle Aldredge explores the problem and encourages 'mindful decision-making' as a way forward.

Let them eat buildings

Alongside all the capital grants for new and extended arts buildings, Alistair Gentry asks when investment in the work of new, financially strapped artists will be given the same priority. “You can put up all the carbon neutral offices you like. What are we going to do with these wonderful art facilities when we’ve got no artists of any quality, ambition or diversity to make and show art in them, because all but the richest and most privileged of us have given up working in the arts for lack of income?”

Helping you answer

This is one of a number of useful resources on Jessica Hiche's website. It provides a polite and informative pro forma reply that artists can use to reply to requests to work for free. 

Margaret Harrison supports paying artists

One of the Paying artists campaign’s high profile advocates, this artist asserts that “The increasing reliance on the art market means the squeezed middle and bottom of the pile, the mostly – but not exclusively – young artists, face an almost impossible struggle to generate, invent and produce vital and interesting art work…This situation doesn’t foster experimentation and leaps of the imagination but rather is designed to maintain the status quo of investment. The first item to be dropped from public exhibition programmes is artists’ fees, often on the grounds that the artist is being ‘offered showing space free of charge’. Inevitably, that means favouring artists from upper income families.

Negotiating a better rate of pay

Getting paid a fair fee is not suggestive of a revolution. So why does it sometimes incur resistance, both from those who pay and from artists themselves? Rod McIntosh introduces ideas towards getting paid what you want and indeed deserve.

No one defends a ‘starving artist’: why professional respect begins at home

If artists regularly self-qualify themselves as ‘starving’ in such a casual and off-handed way, what kind of respect can they expect to gain? Margaret Lam says it’s time tell a different story about what it means to be an artist. “You are an artist. Articulate and defend your ideas and your place in society. This isn’t just a fight for your own survival; it’s a fight to imagine and articulate a not-so-distant artistic future that can become a reality in our lifetime.”

No-one owes you a living just for being an artist

Artist Steve Messam argues that while the art should always come first, it's time for artists to get more business-like and professional. “While campaigns like a-n/AIR’s Paying Artists help make the case for appropriate budgets, artists need to be doing their bit too. If we want to be taken more seriously and valued as professionals, we need to all be more professional in the way we value our own work.”

Palerook blog

“I feel bad about people paying for my work because I think that the people who buy and even those who appreciate my work are somehow being duped. I keep feeling that at some point I am going to be found out to be an imposter. I feel bad when my work is considered valuable.” Describes the self-imposed barriers to acknowledging the artist’s worth financially and concludes by saying: “I’m not going to suddenly increase my prices or change the way I sell my work, but I’m no longer going to limit myself in terms of what I achieve through my work. I’m not going to prevent myself from earning more than I think I deserve. From now on, I refuse to reduce my own value.”

Performers tell museums to get their act together on fees

Institutions are spending millions on spaces for performance but some curators are “surprised they have to pay live art performers at all”, says The Art Newspaper. “Performers are beginning to set a minimum for what they are willing to work for…it is a new, big pill for museums to swallow.”

The Arts in Austerity: artist as entrepreneur 2.0

The idea of an ‘American Model’ of arts funding has gained traction in the UK, with calls for artists to be ‘entrepreneurial’. But American critic and curator Andrew Horwitz finds the US funding system deeply problematic, while those who espouse entrepreneurship miss the point that the real ‘business of art’ is not for profit. “Artists not only need to take the lead in this conversation, they must reach across the table – as daunting as it seems – to the funders, institutions and for-profit entrepreneurs, and help them to see what artists actually do, see our resilient economies and inventiveness, our collaborative creative processes, our ability to create real value, real change and real transformation out of scarcity.”

The Pay’s the Thing

“Just because the motives behind my craft are not money-based doesn’t mean I’ll play a gig for nothing.” Louis Barabbas explains his motivations for making music, which are primarily about quality of life rather than cash, but maintains the key guideline as: “Don’t be exploited”.

What to say when you’re asked to work for free

If you own a small business or are self-employed, sooner or later you will be asked to work for free. The more successful you become, the more requests you’ll get. Writer Rhonda Abrams of The Star, Toronto, Canada suggests that with the right response, you can turn these freeloaders into something positive.

Who feeds the artist?

While being a musician is a vocation and privilege, we still need to make a living. Xenia Pestova argues “It is time to accept responsibility and to open a discussion with each other, our organisers, and our public. This conversation might be a difficult one to have, and it is doubtful that it will radically change engrained professional standards and expectations in the near future. We may even singe a few bridges in the process. However, I invite you to join me and take that risk. If nothing else, it can provide us with an opportunity to pave the path for the next generation of professionals who follow in our footsteps.”

You Show me Yours

Bryony Kimmings’ blog discussing real-life earnings and expenses in “the false economy” of touring theatre, difficulties of negotiating, and earning a living as an artist, despite being established and award winning, and working 14 hour days, six days a week.. “The artist is always the one squeezed. I am sure venues will say that they are squeezed too… so stop with the false economy, be realistic with your funders about what their investment gets them, stop bowing down.”

Paying artists campaign

Instigated by a-n The Artists Information Company and AIR: Artists Interaction and Representation, and supported by UK and international artist and arts agencies, this is a strategic, long-term campaign steered by artist activists that advocates for fair pay for visual artists when showing work in publicly-funded values. Underpinned by in-depth independent research and informed by strategies in Australia, Canada, Poland, Norway, Sweden and US, it makes the case for artists’ fees as part of achieving equality and diversity policies. Manifesto, video, case studies, supporting statements and sign up at