Tuesday, 29 November 2011

exploitation of arts professionals

It is extraordinary though wholly familiar that arts professionals are expected to deliver high level services for nothing or next to nothing. Enthusiasm and commitment are exploited by those commissioning services. The most recent example is a podcast I was asked to record by the National Gallery in connection with the Leonardo show. I was asked to record items on the anatomical drawings, one of which, the vertical section of a man's head, provides a wonderful entry into Leonardo's ideas about seeing, thinking, imagination, memory etc. I negotiated the fee up to a grand £100! This was absolutely their "top fee". The gallery was unable to fix the recording at a date when I was due to be in London, and I therefore had to make the journey specially. On claiming expenses, I was told that they were not part of the deal.  Given average mileage rates for travelling from Oxfordshire, I end up with  £14.20 for something that consumed at least 4 hours of my time. I asked,  "would you expect to employ an accountant or solicitor for this kind of money?" adding that " I am a professional speaker, writer, broadcaster now! There's something very wrong with the priorities here."
The podcast was being made by a company called Antenna, but all my correspondence was with the gallery. They have said they will claim expenses from Antenna, but to date .... no fee, no expenses.
And this in connection with a show that is sold out.
This is just one small incident in the broader picture of exploitation of artists, curators, writers, speakers and administrators. This occurs as a matter of habit even in connection with events that involve large budgets to cover substantial fees for other professionals, such as designers, publicists and the deliverers of other services.


  1. That is appalling. Presumably they feel someone like you should feel privileged to be asked. What arrogance. And the show is packed to the gunwales, despite their so called restrictions. Reviewers have no idea what a horrid experience it is for the public.

  2. That may be true but as a follower of all things Leonardo, I did notice that you have received a lot more exposure and publicity throughout and due to the Leonardo exhibition. Surely, a lack of £85.80 in your bank account, is not really something to sniff about when you have perhaps benefited in other ways.

    1. I believe Martin was very clear that this was a matter of principle and not really about the £100. Practices of this kind have become rife because too many people have gone along with them, so now we're in a situation where the creative industries can claim they would collapse without them. They've even got people like you defending the indefensible voluntarily (assuming you don't actually work for this company). As the previous person noted, the Leonardo show is not a loss-maker for the gallery and I'm sure many other people and companies associated with it are profiting very nicely.
      Secondly, having a raised profile does not pay for your train ticket or buy your lunch. To equate a few more people being familiar with one's name to being able to pay one's bills is absurd at best, disingenuous at worst. At your work place, are you paid in kudos and prestige?

  3. The point is less about my personal income - which is comfortable but not large - but about the system of values in relation to other professionals. Artists, curators and other professionals on the art scene are expected to work for little or nothing, exploiting their commitment to art. A curator of an exhibition with a budget of £1 million (and visitor numbers over 200,00 will be lucky to receive more than 1% of the budget for work stretching over 3-4 years. Without the curator there is no show. I've suggested that a curator should be remunerated with an advance and a percentage of the take at the door (like royalties on a book) but this has never happened. Not least it would lock the curator into the success of the show and the promotion of it.