What’s A Gallery Without The Art To Fill It? The Paying Artists Campaign Explained


Meet the advocates: Heather Garner talks to Liverpool’s Paying Artists campaigners about equality, fair wages, and making a giant, travelling cake to be shared out at galleries during tonight’s Light Night…

Think of the last exhibition you saw. How much do you think the artist was paid to exhibit? I’ll take a guess and say that it’s likely you’ve not thought about it; after all, why would you? You wouldn’t think about how much the chef is paid at your favourite restaurant, or how much the fitness instructor is paid at your local gym. I’ll admit, the thought never really enter my head until seeing the Paying Artists campaign.

You might take a guess at a couple of hundred pounds, or maybe a couple of thousand. What is less likely is that you’ll say the answer is nothing at all. Unfortunately, the latter is a common problem facing British artists and indeed the whole arts sector; even at non-profit organisations who receive public funding (NPOs). Aiming to specifically secure payment for artists at said NPOs, a-n (Artists Information Company) launched the Paying Artists project officially last year, and it is now being advocated in Edinburgh, Glasgow, Bristol, Birmingham, Cardiff and Liverpool.

At the helm of Liverpool’s call for fair pay are regional advocates and artists Hannah Bitowski, Flis Mitchell and Kevin Hunt. Speaking to The Double Negative this week, the trio talked about their roles as advocates, what they hope the campaign will achieve and, with tonight’s opening of Light Night 2015, what they have in store to raise awareness of this much needed call to action.

“71% of artists who exhibit in NPOs, which are publicly funded galleries, don’t receive any payment at all”

“71% of artists who exhibit in NPOs, which are publicly funded galleries, don’t receive any payment at all, and 63% of artists have had to turndown work from an NPO for an exhibition because they couldn’t afford to work for free”, explains Mitchell. “The premise [of the campaign] is that since these are publicly funded organisations, they should act more appropriately as guardians of public money and promote fairness and equality in their payment of artists.”

Out of 50 countries worldwide, the UK is perceived to be the fourth best nation for arts and culture, but it is this endemic inequality that Mitchell vocalises that is threatening the exciting and culturally diverse arts sector that we have come to know and enjoy. What the campaign points out is that if artists are not being treated on equal financial equal footing, then artists will (and are) moving out of the arts sector to find more financially stable work, leaving only those that can afford to work in the arts to exhibit at NPOs.

Paying Artists Campagin:  regional advocates (Liverpool) and artists Hannah Bitowski, Flis Mitchell and Kevin Hunt

The Paying Artist campaign is calling for a level of good practice to be put in place amongst galleries in the hope of encouraging a policy to be implemented by NPOs across the board, allowing artists to be paid on equal footing, and – perhaps most important — for such a policy to be made transparent for all to see. In the interest of balance, nine NPO case studies – including galleries G39 (Cardiff), The Showroom (London) and Fabrica (Brighton) – have already been published, declaring their arrangements with exhibiting artists, and demonstrating that not all galleries are willing to hide behind a veil of anonymity.

What the campaign now hopes to achieve is the same level of transparency from all NPOs; and this is where Bitowski, Hunt and Mitchell come in to the equation.

“In the simplest terms, we’re kind of a little bit like brokers” says Hunt. “We’re brokering the conversation between the NPOs in our area… the long term aim for the campaign is to show that the only way that change can be brought into place nationally is that if those conversations stop being taboo.”

“It really is a matter of economic diversity within the arts”

The main conversational thrust of the campaign lies with Liverpool’s NPOs themselves – such as the Bluecoat, Open Eye, the Walker and FACT – but this is only the first step towards a broader conversation that is needed between the wider community, both at a political and grassroots level.

“We’ve also been talking to MPs and councillors”, continues Hunt, “including Louise Ellman [Labour MP for Liverpool Riverside]. So we want to raise the issue because it really is a matter of economic diversity within the arts.” In fact, anyone can get involved — a Paying Artists campaign pack is available to download (here) offering advice on how to get the message out to those in politically advantageous positions, engaging local media, and even how to deliver workshops.

“Later today, the Paying Artists campaign will be brought to the streets of Liverpool with #FollowTheCake”

The conversation continues online with the opening of a chat-room that will be live from 4-8pm on Wednesday 20 May, in the hope of dispelling myths about the campaign and allowing a free-flowing conversation to form between wider communities.

Later today, the Paying Artists campaign will be brought to the streets of Liverpool with #FollowTheCake for the opening of Light Night. Bitowski, Hunt and Mitchell have commissioned a giant cake, made by the Liverpool Cake Company, that will be transported around the city from 5-7pm on a special bike, awarding slices to the galleries that have demonstrated good practice with their exhibited artists – or as Flis Mitchell puts it, “to people who’ve been sharing their slice of the cake appropriately!”

So who will this campaign benefit? Mitchell describes how implementing a policy of good practice will benefit the artists who are not being paid to exhibit, but in doing so, Bitowski adds that “it will also benefit the general public in showing a diversity of artists on display that are fully supported by our NPOs.” After all, what is an art gallery without the art to fill it? On this thought alone, I think we can all agree it is a cause well worth getting behind.

Heather Garner

Tweet (and indeed, go and see) #FollowTheCake tonight 5-7pm — more info about this and all Light Night activities here

More on Paying Artists here and on Twitter through #PayingArtists and @an_artnews

See the Liverpool Paying Artists project Tumblr here

Posted on 15/05/2015 by thedoublenegative