The Future of Artist Salaries

Ever wonder how freelance artists are paid? Alexis Clements of Hyperallergic fills us in on this blog post. We’ve been hearing a lot of coverage on the recognition of arts in the federal government this summer, including: how Kickstarter has donated more money to the arts than the National Endowment for the arts this year, contract workers at the Smithsonian going on strike, and of course, the ongoing battle to keep arts programs alive and funded in public schools. The question Clements asks is a tough one: “How are artists who have been systematically denied fair wages and access to basic services like healthcare and unemployment protections gaining access to those things today?”

In short, she says that artists have five outlets to improve their work conditions: 1. They can create or join a Union. 2. They can lobby with professional arts associations. 3. They can support a certification program in the making (link) where organizations would agree to “ethical payment practices”. They would only display their art or work at said organizations. 4. They can set forth revolutionary demands to create a minimum income. 5. They can create an alternative economy with resources like affordable housing and barter networks.

Some artists would find these measures unnecessary: many artists supplement their income and receive benefits by teaching, working for fine arts non-profits, and even work jobs that have nothing to do with their artistic field as their “day job”. For the majority of artists who do not or cannot work another job, or whose “day job” does not provide the necessary benefits, artistic freelancing is being made easier by the creation and revitalization of Unions. For example, the revitalization of “Local 802”, a New York Musician’s union, includes benefits like health care and scholarship funds for musicians.

Clements concludes: “The reality is, of course, that these five categories are not really distinct or separate — they intertwine and overlap, and each relies on a viewpoint that believes the opaque and laissez-faire realities of the current arts landscape are not only detrimental to individual artists, but that they are part of a larger system that is detrimental to all people.” It seems today that artists, as well as the larger society, are looking for ways to end the marginalization of the fine arts. Luckily, there are vehicles for change being instated with high demand. Slowly but surely, it is apparent artists can look forward to the future of their careers.