Creative talent must be respected with fair pay

There’s a growing lack of respect for talent, and artists must be fairly paid for their work, says Maria Roberts

The Stage is running in-depth coverage on Low Pay / No Pay, reporting on the issues of payment in the theatre industry. One such story is that of a touring musical company that cancelled a two-year run after three shows sold just 18 seats – wages stopped, and now the cast are seeking to recover unpaid money as they were entitled to a month’s notice.

Working in the arts can be excruciatingly hard, whether as an artist or on the admin and management side. You are expected to work long hours, at all times of the day, even weekends, for low pay. And while you need the money, others assume it should be done out of love. The UK Arts Salary Survey 2013/14 found that the average arts worker lives in London, is female, aged 34.5, is likely to have two degrees, works 36.5 hours per week and earns just under GBP20k (€24k).

Given that rents for a one-bed flat in London are often in excess of GBP1.3K per month, it doesn’t add up. And if the average income in the UK is 26.5k, it falls far short of the mark. A quick look at the Arts Council’s jobs website in the UK and you’ll find a raft of positions with GBP10-15k salaries, GBP15-20k salaries and just a few GBP25k+ jobs.

I recently bumped into a friend who was leaving a position because her freelance rates were being reduced. Another friend has ditched a 20-year arts career to join a government agency because the insecurity of work, delayed payments and plunging value of work in the arts were forcing her into poverty, aged 40.

Read: Creative Europe funding: an insider’s guide

I dislike this assumption that we should be grateful to work in the creative industries. And I do think there’s a growing lack of respect for talent. Just because anyone can make a recording, review a concert, write a blog, publish a book doesn’t mean that those who are genuinely skilled in these fields should be disrespected with low pay – or worse still – no pay.

Equity has recently created a new position to keep an eye on no and low pay agreements. The actors’ union is to encourage fringe performers to pursue companies paying less than the UK’s national minimum wage, even in a profit share situation where there is no profit, and more worryingly at student shows. Yet I wonder if this is a step too far? Over zealous policing may equally affect creativity. The fringe is where fledgling writers, producers, directors and actors cut their teeth – not cut their credit cards in half.