Conclusion: We hit what we aim at

I wrote a post a while ago about how to be an artist I was needing to be more an administrator. I wrote that if we work hard, and are lucky, we hit what we aim at. While I wanted to aim at being an artist, I realized that to do that I had to aim at being more of an administrator.

I just saw an article that reminded me how – in the industry – we hit what we aim at, too. The article, titled “Low Pay a Problem for Dance Sector” by Lalayn Baluch reports on the Arts Council England’s (ACE) findings that many dancers earn very little money. The ACE study will be used to develop ACE’s new national arts strategy, which will be published in 2010.

Arts Council England has raised concerns over the “sustainability” of careers and leadership within dance, after research revealed that 23% of people working in the sector earned less than £5,000 last year. The funding body’s Dance Mapping report – the largest piece of research of its kind – described the dance workforce as “highly educated”, with 62% of people in the sector holding a degree. However, it also revealed that 38% only earned between £5,000 and £20,000 in 2008/9.

ACE fears that the low pay will affect the sustainability of careers, leadership and the ability for “potential dance champions to emerge”. Responding to the findings, ACE director of dance strategy Janet Archer, said the sector needs to “generate the confidence to value itself and position itself assertively”.

She said: “[Dance] artists and producers will often elect to work for nothing or very little, in order to get things done. It should not be acceptable for talented people to rely on passion alone to fuel their work.

As a dancer, I appreciate the study, and the ‘you should value yourself’ stuff.  I had been really uncertain of my self-worth, but now that someone else says it’s wrong we get paid so little, I feel much better. It’s just unfortunate that everything she said is completely useless blather. It looks to me like this person wants to find reasons to pump more funding into a specific type of funding program, and she’s found her ammunition to get it done with this study.

empty-stageWe exist in a (global) economy which sets prices on things. Don’t you think that journalists would love to ‘value themselves’ more? If more people wanted to pay to see dance, and wanted to pay more to see it, dancers would make more money. As musicians, bakers, painters, and car-makers. One of the problems with the non-profit world is that it seems to have no understanding of economics. Non-profit industry maintains a revenue stream (donations, foundations) that for profits do not. But it still exists in the economy, and the basic laws still apply.

If arts administrators are clueless about economics, they develop pie-in-the-sky clueless solutions for artists. You can’t fake an understanding of how the world works. I think it would be real progress to see all arts administrators going through basic econ, statistics, micro, and macro classes. I’m certain the impact on the field would be immense.

The article goes on:

“We have many outstanding dance leaders working in the field. Unfortunately, many choose to leave to pursue more realistic career options.” Archer said that ACE acknowledged that dance needs more investment, and that more should be done to help and support dance artists and create opportunities for them to work. “Dance is highly trained profession and yet the bleak reality is that personal earnings from dance continue to be low,” she added.

In the sense of “we hit what we aim at”: funders want to understand the scene, and be able to help. In my roll as chair of the DC Advocates for the Arts I see the work, and the genuine desire to really help. Part of that is looking for efficiency, to make the most of what they can offer. The desire to help is real. But when funders try to unhook the arts profession from every other profession, they develop wasteful solutions.

I think larger arts fellowships, and more of them, would be great. But the number of individuals and organizations seeking funding will probably always be far, far, far larger than any foundation can support. It’s not nearly as sexy, but efficiency in funding would probably have a larger impact than ‘creativity’ in funding.

Author: Robert Bettmann

Founder of Day Eight, and the DC Arts Writing Fellowship.