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In the first of a series of features about pay levels in the arts sector, ArtsProfessional reveals some initial findings from its 2006 salary survey and asks the fundamental question...
It is almost taken for granted these days that working in the arts is as much a labour of love as a career choice that the people who take responsibility for ensuring that this country is provided with a diverse array of high quality artistic activity are living out their dreams of working in an environment with creative expression at its core. This notion of the job of your dreams is often given as the rationale for low wages; that creativity can compensate for a wage packet that is smaller that the one taken home by someone working in insurance, manufacturing or even teaching. If true, then does this actually matter? Low wages keep overheads down, enabling arts organisations to be lean and efficient& dont they? And if people still apply for jobs in the arts, even when salaries are lower than commensurate positions in other sectors, then why worry?

Earlier this year, ArtsProfessional, conducted a survey of those working in the arts. Almost 2,500 of you responded and the findings are startling. While low salaries in the arts sector have long been a source of despair amongst arts professionals, the survey has revealed for the first time the extent of the problem and specific areas that are particularly badly affected. In an attempt to kick-start a debate about the issue, we have set out a few of the main reasons why low wages are fundamentally damaging to the arts sector and why we think the situation should change. Over the coming months we will be publishing more statistics that reveal the winners and losers in the battle for decent pay in the arts.

The peanut / monkey relationship

To say that low salaries only attract less able candidates to a job is a truism that probably doesnt apply in the arts (though it would be pretty difficult to prove either way). It is constantly astonishing to find highly qualified graduates settling into jobs in the arts sector on salaries that would struggle to attract any applicants in other industries (see Fig 1). But what of those who arent willing to sacrifice the possibility of cash in hand for the love of art? (And that includes a lot of very able, talented and artistic people, by the way). Many simply dont apply. Thus the pool of candidates for arts jobs becomes self-limiting. By default, having an interest in the arts silently establishes itself as a hidden selection criterion that takes on more weight in the recruitment process than the technical skills required to do a job.

Revolving doors

What do people do when they find themselves in an arts job for which they feel underpaid? (And lets face it, most jobs become somewhat routine after a while, and, even if someone was willing to settle for a low salary to get their dream job in the first place, resentment can start to gather momentum as the rose-tinted spectacles fall away or as peers in other industries accelerate ahead in terms of earnings.) They do one of two things: either they look for other jobs in the arts sector that will pay them more (which is easier said than done if pay levels are low across the board) or they will join the ranks of all those who didnt bother to apply for a job in the arts in the first place, and concede that its going to be much easier to make a decent living somewhere else (see Fig 2). All the investment in training and the experience they have gathered during their time in the arts is lost to the sector as they move on to join organisations that are in a position to reward their new-found skills with cash.

Mixed messages on status

Arts funding bodies especially the arts councils and local authority arts departments expend an awful lot of energy trying to persuade those with the money national and local governments to recognise the value of the arts to society. Sometimes they point to the economic impact of the arts, particularly in regeneration projects where the arts are held up as being an important part of what makes the public want to live in places that were previously considered to be virtually uninhabitable. At other times they cite the social benefits, with the arts being heralded as a vital part of the solution to problems as wide-ranging as truancy, heart disease and the rehabilitation of offenders. But if the arts are so valuable, then maybe its time that arts organisations started to reflect the value of its skills in delivering these services in the pay packets they give to their staff (see Fig 3). For as long as the top management in arts organisations are willing to rub along by squeezing the pay packets of those who work for them (and to be fair, this normally includes their own salaries) there is no incentive for those handing out the money to do anything about the situation. Furthermore, salaries send out a message, loud and clear, that arts organisations dont place much value on their own work. This being the case, why should anyone else?

Discrimination writ large

Paying low salaries is probably the most discriminatory act that arts organisations ever engage in, and the survey findings bear clear testament to this (see The reinforced glass ceiling below). Ageism, sexism and classism can be unintended consequences of poor pay in otherwise attractive occupations. How does this happen? Firstly, the arts will tend to recruit staff who can afford to live on low salaries. These are often people who are young, with no major financial commitments or family responsibilities (see Fig 4 ): those with mortgages will be hard pressed to cover their bills, and as the repayment of significant university tuition fees starts to become an issue, the pool of people in a position to work for next to nothing is likely to shrink still further, and jobs in the arts sector are in danger of becoming the preserve of the affluent middle classes. Secondly, the arts can be a financially viable option for individuals who are living in multi-income households, and whose living expenses are therefore shared, but a household that must also budget for child care will be hard pushed to do so out of arts salaries. The logical thing for parents or carers to do is to encourage the higher earner in the family to continue working as much as possible while the lower earner either gives up work to look after children, takes part-time work in the arts at a point in their career when they might otherwise be expected to be progressing to senior levels, or looks for better-paid work elsewhere. So although, at entry level, the arts attract many, many more women than men (see Fig 6), it is small wonder that women are less likely to make it to senior levels in the sector. Thirdly, a reliance on poorly paid starting salaries means that those at the foot of the ladder without parental backing will struggle to even begin a career in the arts. If you grow up in a low income household the likelihood of embarking on an arts career must be limited by the hurdles placed right at the start of it.

Catch 22

So we can only conclude that size does matter when it comes to pay packets. But even if we are unhappy about pay, what can be done about this, given that the cultural sector as a whole is widely constrained by a financial model dominated by the vagaries of government funding? As things stand, paying more to arts professionals would simply mean spending less in other areas fewer arts organisations, fewer artists in schools, less investment in high quality artistic development, etc. The time has surely come to re-assess the way in which the arts sector is financed. We work in a creative sector: we now need creative solutions to help break out of the financial straitjacket that constrains it, else the damaging consequences of low pay will gradually erode its efficacy in sharing the benefits of the arts with the community it sets out to serve.

Pay is the elephant in the room which no one discusses. Salaries are accepted, norms are established. We grumble amongst ourselves but are weak when it comes to making a case for change. Over the next few months ArtsProfessional will be setting out more of the findings from the salary survey. We invite you to join us in answering the question, what are we worth?

If you have a query about how much arts professionals are paid, then send us your question! If we hold relevant data that can shed light on the issue you raise, we will publish the findings in future issues of ArtsProfessional. Email your questions to editors@artsprofessinal.co.uk.

Coming up soon... Which jobs pay the best?... London v England v rest of the UK... Freelance pay... and a lot more.

The ArtsProfessional Salary Survey 2006

APs salary survey was conducted online in May 2006. A total of 2,448 people provided data on which the statistics reported here have been based. Wide-ranging data has been collected from full-time employees, part-time employees, freelance workers and business owners working in different parts of the arts sector. Over the coming months, AP will be publishing more details of the findings from different sectors of the arts community.

More key statistics

- 58% of people working as arts professional earn less than £25k a year
- 21% of senior managers responsible for all staff in an establishment or department earn less than £25k a year
- the average salary for a person with graduate or post graduate qualifications working full-time in an entry level job in the arts is £18,248
- the average salary of graduates in their 30s working full-time in the arts is £25,669
- 70% of arts professionals have a degree and/or
postgraduate qualification
- 13% of graduates working in the arts earn more than £35k
- 86% of entry level positions in the arts are held by women
- 60% of senior level positions in the arts are held by women
- the average salary for women working full-time at senior levels in the arts is £30,551
- the average salary for men working full-time at senior levels in the arts is £32,303