Keeping Focused: Why Should We Pay Artists More?

Apr 5, 2011

With the recent uptick in provocative discussion about arts funding via Rocco Landesman's shot heard around the world ("Look. You can either increase demand or decrease supply. Demand is not going to increase, so it is time to think about decreasing supply.") and the Collective Arts Think Tank's two-year analysis of presenting/comissioning economics, a substantive debate is going on about how we fund and how we create. Culturebot's Jeremy M. Barker has written a good article critiquing a central theme of this debate: artists aren't getting paid enough.

While I disagree with his assertion that artists are being paid just fine (is $11 or less per hour enough?), status quo funding strategies that impoverish innovation will certainly not help advance the field. From the article:
In short, what I’m getting around to is what Andy Horwitz usually says when we chat about these sorts of issues: that we get so caught up in the economics of it, we lose all sight of what’s actually important–the work itself. And I for one find it deeply ironic that the larger arts community so often readily embraces ideas that seem to do nothing but reinforce the status quo by placing ever more power in the hands of cultural gatekeepers. Let the NEA declare we have too much art. Let artistic directors program less and pay more to those they do. It’s akin to the lower-class’s embrace of anti-tax policies that benefit the rich: people act to ensure the benefits keep flowing to the luckiest few in the hope that they will some day be one of those few.

I for one tend to think that casting a wider net is more important than ever. Until someone can suggest a realistic plan to make art a “career” for more performance people, a job that actually pays all of their bills and supports a reasonably middle-class lifestyle, I think that we’re deluding ourselves by believing that nominally better compensation is where the limited funds available to us should be going, rather than supporting the creation of more work. Again, economics would call this a “revealed preference”: for whatever reason, we already know, by their willingness to work for little or nothing, that artists believe the value of producing work, in some capacity, makes up for the low level of financial compensation. And that’s what we should be supporting: the work. 
Read the rest of this important article and catch up on the debate at

Why Should We Pay Artists More?
Posted on 03 April 2011 by Jeremy M. Barker

Tags: Culturebot, Rocco Landesman, Collective Arts Think Tank, funding, economics, money, finances

Sub Categories

ARTISTS: Business of Arts
ARTISTS: Issues & Ideas