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by Tom Freeman
10 August 2016
Creative Scotland is right: give the arts to artists

Creative Scotland is right: give the arts to artists

Factory theatre - credit Kayla-Jane Barrie​

Creative Scotland’s new arts strategy is a bold document calling for better pay for artists and a shake-up of governing boards in the sector.

The timing couldn’t have been better, as the world descends on a wet Edinburgh for the biggest arts festival in the world. It’s a multi-million pound extravaganza where the artists tend to lose money, as well as being bad for their health.

Pay and conditions of artists is an ongoing challenge. The Creative Scotland report points out 80 per cent of Scottish artists earn less than £10,000 per year from their artistic work, and there is no sign this is improving.


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Twenty years ago I graduated from drama school, and at that point an actor could expect to earn more than £10,000 for a network commercial alone. Now, commercial castings regularly promise a buyout of less than £2,000, and that includes additional use of the material online.

And let’s face it, actors don’t go into the business to sell things. Often pursuits which result in more creative fulfilment are on a no-budget ‘profit share’ basis.

These projects then obviously become more accessible to those already self-funding or independently wealthy.

Creative Scotland should be congratulated for getting serious about artist’s pay. After all, the arts define how we see ourselves. But with many more artists than opportunities, the rules of supply and demand mean a major change in fortunes isn’t going to happen anytime soon.

In fact, as arts budgets tighten and arts companies and venues face difficult decisions about their futures and creative output, there is a danger the artist’s voice may become even more marginalised.

That is why Creative Scotland’s call for a shake-up of artistic boards is vital. Currently, boards tend to be made up of volunteers from the business community. However, it is artists who are uniquely placed, as frontline practitioners, to be able to come up with imaginative strategic solutions that can ensure sustainability and quality are not exclusive of each other.

Last year the actor’s union Equity passed my motion at its AGM calling on all theatre companies to include active theatre practitioners on their boards.

Apart from anything else, if organisations can’t guarantee the artists that give them their identity a living, they could at least give them the sense of coherence, ownership and control that leads to a healthy life. 

The key feature, as former Chief Medical Officer Harry Burns points out, is control. "If communities are genuinely involved in shaping solutions to their own problems, those solutions will be enduring and effective," he has said.

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