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New survey suggests generational shift in indie sector's diversity

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.
New survey suggests generational shift in indie sector's diversity

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’.

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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[1]. 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.  



[1] There is much more detailed evidence about earnings in the 2017 report Making Art Work: An Economic Study of Professional Artists in Australia by David Throsby and Katya Petetskaya.

About the author

Jamie Lewis is the Communications Manager at Theatre Network Australia. She is a Melbourne-based, Singaporean artist who creates and performs experimental and contemporary intercultural work, facilitating meditations on identity, place, and time, through autobiographical stories, conversation and food. Committed to decolonising and diversifying practice, and dismantling patriarchal, capitalist systems, Jamie seeks alternative models in her practice, and a re-imagining of leadership, governance, and structures. A graduate of LASALLE College of the Arts (Singapore) and the Victorian College of the Arts (Melbourne), Jamie collaborates as facilitator, dramaturg, and co-creator. She has experience in Audience Development, and consults on branding, marketing, and communication across arts organisations and small businesses.

Kieran Swann is an artist, curator, producer, and facilitator; working in both performance and visual art. His practice returns to ideas of memorial, queerness, performance and bodies as archives, and strategies of co-creation, meaningful engagement of the audience, or at least displacing the usual audience/artist relationship.

In contemporary performance, Kieran is one fourth of The Good Room, a collective who use the anonymous experiences of ordinary people to create extraordinary theatre works, including I Should Have Drunk More Champagne (Metro Arts 2013) and I Just Came To Say Goodbye (Brisbane Festival 2017).

He has worked with Portland Institute of Contemporary Art,Performance Space 122, Danspace Project, and Venice International Performance Art Week; and held positions at Theatre Network Australia, the nation’s leading advocacy organisation for the performing arts (Program Producer); Metro Arts, Brisbane’s home for experimental and contemporary art and performance (Program Manager), and fortyfivedownstairs, an independent space for Melbourne contemporary art and performance (Theatre Coordinator).

Kieran has studied at Wesleyan University’s Institute for Curatorial Practice in Performance, in Connecticut USA; Victorian College of the Arts; and Queensland University of Technology.

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