As arts organisations endure the knock-on effects of funding cuts, Lise Smith discusses the potential risks of skimping on salaries
The arts sector is no stranger to financial straitening; with lottery and local authority funding reduced and public pockets pinching, revenues are down for venues and touring companies alike. Recently it has become clear that this downturn is starting to impact the salaries available for arts managers – creative producers, tour bookers, company managers and marketing staff. Posts at established companies are being advertised at salaries significantly lower than expected for the experience required, and pay for admin and support staff is at the same level or lower than similar posts ten years ago. A decrease in the value of a career in arts management is bad news for individual managers, and may have implications for the arts sector as a whole.
One question that arises is that of value for money – how does the desire of a company to save on the headline figure of a salary impact on the ability of the appointed staff member to support said organisation’s mission and generate revenue? As with consultancy fees in the third sector, the idea of appointing a manager or executive producer at a below-average salary may initially seem enticing to companies looking to save money, but a number of recent posts have been advertised more than once, implying that companies are unable to attract staff with suitable experience at these salary levels.
“I think it will be very challenging for people with high levels of experience to take jobs at these salaries,” says Director of Dance UK Caroline Miller. “They would bring huge experience and expertise to the organisations, but jobs at these salaries will go to younger candidates who are at an earlier stage in their career.”
If the end result is the arrival in post of a staff member who is not very experienced and lacking a professional network of contacts, this could impact negatively on an organisation’s ability to create opportunities, develop partnerships and manage lean periods. Experienced management professionals are increasingly moving into freelance contracts, which – although a viable working alternative for managers – can mean arts organisations lose out on the continuity and stability of having a single person in post. Others are simply leaving the industry, causing a reduction in the pool of talent available.
A further question is how far this should be of concern to funders. On the one hand, it may appear desirable that arts companies are stretching funding by appointing managers and admin staff at below-market rates. But if lower salaries mean companies are appointing staff who are less able to deliver on a development strategy, exploit opportunities and generate revenue, then short-term savings may be outweighed by long-term cost to the organisation. Leadership and development training are vital when organisations are taking on new staff, and so a further issue arises if a reduced budget for salaries is matched by a lack of investment in training.
Funders such as Arts Council England already provide guidance on paying artists – whether performers or members of a creative team – and with a number of new National Portfolio Organisations awarded funding this spring, now may be the time to look at what the role of funding organisations is in providing guidance on management fees to arts companies. Do funders have a responsibility to assess budgets and ensure management and staffing is properly resourced? Caroline Miller says: “The more information shared in the industry and the more empowered members are in terms of what they’re willing to be paid, then the better for everyone.”
It’s quite clear why arts organisations may be looking to save money on salaries at a time when budgets are tight and forecasts gloomy, but it’s also important to ensure that budgets accurately reflect the value that staff – of all levels – bring to a company. A wise investment in staff now may well reap dividends in the future.
The next issue of Dance UK News, published in September 2012, is a special issue dedicated to discussion about dance industry pay