Jamie Lewis and Kieran Swann
A new study of indie artists & arts workers shows those juggling professional practice with non-arts employment work an average 59 hours a week, while also suggesting an opening up of opportunities for CALD people and people with a disability.
Weave Movement Theatre's White Day Dream, 2016. Photo by Paul Dunn.
In 2017, Theatre Network Australia (TNA) conducted THIS IS HOW WE DO IT, its first survey focused on the working trends and conditions for independent artists, creatives, and arts workers. With data gathered from 178 respondents over November and December 2017, the survey is an expansive look at working habits, conditions, personal financial management, and individually established ‘working rates’.
The type of work they do, how many projects are balanced, management of paid and unpaid work, non-arts employment, and collegiate relationships all factor in to create a broad picture of how our industry works, and how that shifts as we progress through our careers from ‘Emerging’, to ‘Mid-Career’, to ‘Established’ artists.
The comparisons have shown some striking differences. More ‘Emerging’ respondents identified as Culturally and Linguistically Diverse, or with a Disability, as compared to ‘Established’ respondents. This could indicate a more difficult path for CALD people and people with a disability, leading to attrition from the industry as they age; it could also indicate a generational shift in which a career in the arts now has fewer obstacles for CALD people and people with a disability.
The survey also gathered data on employment not related to respondents’ artform/creative practice. This included work in fields of arts administration, education, hospitality, and other fields – and the commitment level (casual, part time, and full time). Perhaps predictably, the data indicated a decreasing need to ‘rely’ on non-arts work as practitioners grow older.
Data was also gathered on the amount of time respondents commit to their work – respondents who work only within their arts practice have an average working week of 43 hours, while those who maintain full time employment in addition have a combined working week of 59 hours.
The figures also establish a good sense of career progression, with Established practitioners in some instances charging more than 80% more than their Emerging counterparts; a testament to the worth of 30 average years of practice in the arts. Other scenarios, such as working with funded organisations, see Established artists valuing their time at only 2.86% more than Emerging peers.
Taken in combination with comments about uncertainty and limited success in negotiating fees for creative work with organisations, it indicates an industry where the power to financially recognise experience largely lies with organisations. Respondents have also contributed a wealth of comments about scenarios in which they have successfully and unsuccessfully negotiated fees – which can offer a range of ‘how to’ tips for approaching these types of negotiations.
While the report illustrates a mixed financial reality, it also paints a picture of a vibrant independent sector built on peer exchange, mentorship, and skill-sharing.
In many cases, trading is informal; other respondents carefully calculate the value of this work. Indeed, over 40% of respondents have some form of formal or informal mentorship arrangement in place, and over 39% of other respondents want that type of relationship. These contributions illustrate a sector built on interconnectedness, relying on each other for employment, care, skill and information sharing.
It is the first survey with this focus undertaken by Theatre Network Australia, and we hope the findings presented here, reflecting the realities of making it as an independent artist or arts worker in Australia, provide solid provocation for discussion, evaluation, and benchmarking.
Theatre Network Australia’s THIS IS HOW WE DO IT can be downloaded from www.tna.org.au.
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