Today in IdeasMag we kick off The Pay Debate, a series of interviews, opinion pieces and downloadable resources exploring the contentious issue of pay – or more specifically the lack of it – in the arts. IdeasTap’s Editor James Hopkirk explains why and asks: is it ever OK for people working in the arts not to get paid?
IdeasTap was set up in 2008 at a time when the financial outlook around the world was looking increasingly dire.
Our Chairman and trustees could see the impact the impending downturn was going to have on the cultural sector, and on young people in particular. They founded IdeasTap specifically to help young creatives hoping to find work at this difficult time.
Since then we’ve seen the financial meltdown drag on and get worse – youth unemployment has soared, arts funding has been slashed and creative and cultural organisations around the country have cut budgets, staff and, in some cases, collapsed entirely. But the volume of young people hoping to enter the sector continues to grow.
So in this crowded, competitive marketplace, with young people desperate to fill out their CVs, fighting for fewer and fewer jobs, it’s hardly surprising that working for free, in the hope it will lead to paid employment, is so commonplace. This is despite National Minimum Wage legislation, which has been around since 1998.
At the end of last year we conducted our annual survey and included a series of questions about working unpaid. We wanted to get a clearer idea from our members of just how widespread it really is – and how they felt about it.
Of the 2,167 members who responded, 91% said they’d worked for free at some point in their career so far. And nearly three quarters of them said they’d do it again.
Their experiences were predominantly positive – the majority felt they’d gained valuable experience, built up their CV or worked with inspirational people. Nonetheless, only 28% said that working for free had actually led to paid work. And the majority of respondents said they had to supplement what income they did earn from the creative industries with non-creative jobs.
You can see a simple breakdown of the survey results here.
This was a small but representative sample of our 83,000 members, and the responses made us want to know more. This is an issue that affects everyone in our network – whether as students, interns, job seekers, freelancers, content creators, collectives, employers – or future employers.
We want to arm our members – and young, creative people generally – with the knowledge and resources to make the best decision for themselves, if faced with the zero-dollar question.
Over the coming weeks we’ll be talking to a range of people on all sides of the debate and sharing what we learn in IdeasMag. But we want to hear from you too. What’s been your experience? What decisions have you made and why – whether as employer or employee? You can read what some of our members had to say about it here.
We’re certainly not sitting in judgement. We know these issues are complex and we don’t believe there’s an easy answer. We know it’s tough out there for everyone, from individual graduates to fledgling creative businesses, right through to established arts organisations.
And we’re involved. As a funder, we give money to young people to support their creative projects with as few strings attached as possible – once the money’s been handed over, we don’t get involved in how it’s spent. But should we? And on our jobs board we include a handful of unpaid positions, but only for registered charities. Should we remove unpaid listings entirely?
We want to hear from as many perspectives as possible – and if people or organisations would rather write anonymously, that’s fine with us. We want to hear the reality, not the official line.
Please leave your comments below or, if you’d like to write about these issues for IdeasMag (paid, of course), send pitches to firstname.lastname@example.org – although we won’t be able to commission everything that’s pitched.
So – is it ever OK for people working in the arts not to get paid?
More from The Pay Debate:
Member case studies: working for free
Is work experience worth it?
Daisy on unpaid internships
Is journo pay paltry?
Employment rights: the lowdown
Should employers of unpaid interns be arrested?
Working for food
Catherine Large of CC Skills: "We need to work with employers"
"Why we don't pay performers"
Why low pay isn't always exploitation
Pay rates: the lowdown
Image: Said the Reaper by EJP Photo under a CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 license.