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Posted On October 3, 2017 By In Art, industry, Rants With 240 Views

OPINION: The Starving Arts

The first in a series of columns by our writers on issues that affect the local arts community: Why so-called “work for exposure” hurts artists and Queensland’s struggling creative community.

Work for exposure. If you’re part of the arts community, or looking to employ an artist, you’ve probably heard the term before. With a seemingly endless supply of information and tutorials available via the internet, it seems as if any average Joe can pick up a guitar or a graphics tablet and call themselves an artist. So if you ever needed to hire one of these “artists”, they shouldn’t need to be paid for their effort right? They should be doing it because they feel passionate about it, not because they’re desperate to make any money. I mean – in this economy – we can’t afford to pay artists for something they would be doing anyway. Right? Right?
This piece goes out to any piece of human garbage in a square tie that agreed with every statement listed above – you’re wrong.

Musicians, artists, writers, photographers, and others that have chosen to pursue a creative career are often bombarded with requests to work for free or to “work for exposure”. This generally means a company or business will hire an artist to do a job, be it a single task or ongoing work, without giving any form of compensation.

This is under the guise that the work they do will further their career and attract other businesses that are willing to pay them. Although a business that offers or requests “work for exposure” may think they are doing no harm – or even helping a creative person build their reputation – forcing artists to work for no money or the promise of future money hurts both the individual and Queensland’s larger creative community.

pasted image 0SOURCE: Emmie Tsumura 

Let’s face it. We live in an environment that doesn’t value the arts, as creativity is seemingly lost in a sea of academia, sport, and celebrity culture. Over the past few years, Australia has been hit by numerous cuts to an already strict budget for the arts, causing a loss of jobs and a decrease in the production of creative content.

In 2016, dozens of art organisations across Australia lost all or most of their funding, which may force creative and technical talent to look outside of the country for work, leading to an inevitable creative drought. In schools, the arts are ignored entirely, or regarded as “entertainment” that has no place within the classroom.

Student/researcher Janis Boyd suggests: “A society that regards paid work as the ‘real thing’ and creative life as a frill, something that is carried out on behalf of the community by a special priestly class (the arts community), is an incomplete and unhealthy society”.

With this mindset, it becomes clearer as to why some feel reluctant to pay an artist for their work. However, the notion that artists are only able to pursue their passion as a result of being financially successful and/or swimming in free time, is an incorrect and damaging one. The majority of artists are unable to meet their minimum living requirements on their creative income alone, with 55% incapable of covering the cost of living using all streams of income.

As an artist myself, I barely scrape in any income from working creatively, and often find myself incapable of covering the costs associated with making my art. Currently, this doesn’t affect me to a level where I would be unable to make art because, as a high school student, I’m supported by loving parents who understand how important a creative outlet is to me. However, I know how restricted I will be by my choice to pursue a creative career, and the promise of paid work in the future will be rendered entirely redundant if I cannot afford to make art in the present.

Any form of art is an expensive endeavor, requiring pricey ongoing materials, which usually end up being taken from the artist’s already limited income stream. On top of this, art is a time-consuming practice, with the average practicing artist spending over half of their time on creative work, and another 28% on arts-related work.

Therefore, a company requesting an artist to use a large portion of their resources and time to create a piece that they will not be paid for, out of an ignorant stereotype of artists or an overestimation of the importance of “exposure”, is a selfish practice that hurts creative individuals. Without paying work, freelance artists will die out or leave the country to seek work, leading to a country-wide cultural disaster.

So, what can be done at a government level to combat this issue? There are two obvious paths that could be taken, both with their own positives and negatives. The first option would be to increase Queensland’s budget for the arts, meaning that more artists are financially secure and therefore, able to take jobs without requiring compensation, as well as having the materials and time to pursue their own personal endeavours.

The second option is to set a flat fee for artists, musicians, photographers, writers, and other creatives, to be enforced by policy. This means that if an artist was hired by a business, the business would then be required by law to pay them for their labour.

In an ideal world, where the importance of the arts is recognised in the way it should be, both of these options would be able to coexist and operate in unison. However, by taking small steps to ensure artists are supported financially, we can protect a creative future for our country.
Because if we don’t, if we continue to undermine the value of artists and the work they produce based on prejudice and selfishness, we will enter a cultural drought the likes of which Australia has never seen.
And we may never recover.

By PHOEBE MCNEIL

*Featured image of “starving artist” found at http://www.katparkerphotography.com/2016/10/31/starving-artist/

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