The arts and culture industry contributes around £6 billion of GVA to the UK economy. We’ve already seen days of strikes at the National Gallery in London, there are anticipated cuts as part of the government’s plan to reduce deficit, and artists’ fluctuating financial security not only stems from a traditionally unstable salary but from the lack of pensions and benefits. Short of doing a Nicholas Cage move in Face/Off and becoming David Cameron, is there anything artists themselves can do to improve their financial prospects? Always.
Most important is perhaps an artist’s ability to manage having various streams of income. Rarely will an artist nowadays purely spend his/her time doing one thing. Of course, when you become Damien Hirst, do this to your heart’s content. But for the average artist, a 9 – 5 job is common, and for others, using a combination of web sales, commission projects, grants, teaching positions and gallery showings is the norm.
So, what sources of income are out there?
1. Commission Me, Baby! – many artists prefer commission work over all else, and it’s understandable to see why. To be able to create a bespoke piece for a private client, at a price which the artist has negotiated, is a creative's dream. Meantime, for public commissions, although artists will only get a commission of the total cost of a project (e.g. 15% of a new building project), such work is nonetheless bespoke, and that in itself enables an artist to do what they love the most - create.
2. I Want That Space! – non-profit galleries tend to show work that is quirkier, more cutting edge and fresh. They won’t represent an artist or require contracts to be drawn, and their commission on any sale of a piece tends to remain under the 30% mark. Alternatively, exhibiting at a commercial gallery is often the champagne popping moment, although it does come at a price. Commission is set at a higher rate of up to 50%, and artists should always read the small print in gallery contracts – if the gallery is representing the artist, the agreement may also require that commission on any out of gallery sales (e.g. online sales) be paid. It goes without saying that this should be avoided at all costs!
3. Come Into My World! – if you have a light, airy and spacious studio, bringing buyers to your world (either through private appointments or through open studio events) should always be on your annual agenda. Nothing beats the allure of a piece than seeing it in its natural environment (your studio) alongside a private tour by its creator (you), so get those festive periods blocked out in your diary and start planning for in-studio exhibitions.
5. Gransterize Yourself! – finally and although competitive to obtain, grants are available for artists and vary in amount and source. Whilst grants in the UK are being reduced in line with the government’s cuts to arts funding, countries in the European Union and Scandinavia have been on a grant roll for years. For those with an opportunity to work or live in such countries: in France, artists can claim up to £6,000 purely to equip their studios, whilst in Denmark, selected artists are granted annual stipends of up to £17,000 for the rest of their lives. Rest. Of. Their. Lives. Yes, you read correctly.
So – whilst the image of ‘the struggling artist’ still resonates within the industry, artists who can play the industry at its own game and get savvy about business and commerce can end up juggling a variety of fruitful income streams whilst still doing exactly what they love. Create art.
For further information and helpful links:
Arts Council England: http://artscouncil.org.uk/
Artists Network: http://www.artistsnetwork.com/
Arts Hub: http://www.artshub.co.uk