What Are Creatives in the Community Worth?

Why do creatives in the community sometimes get paid so little? It has been annoying me of late.

At an interview regarding working in health settings I was offered a rate of pay almost 3 times less than what I normally command. I took a risk and asked my interviewer why the pay was so low. I was given a rather insubstantial response; the organisation received small funds and had to offer sessions to as many people as they could.

Surely having fewer funds means the number of projects you offer are less rather than the wage you distribute? Why does the artist have to suffer? Will the quality of work be the same when you pay an artist so little? Can they dedicate as much time to planning and preparation on such a small fee?

Lack of money was also something that caused tension on a musicleader course I am working towards. Some community musicians seemed insulted by the money they were offered for working in schools. A less obvious issue, but one I felt was present, was that of secrecy; some community musicians appeared quite cagey on disclosing the rates they charge and it baffled me. Why is it that teachers know roughly what their colleagues’ salary is? That a barrister will be in full knowledge of the average (cough- extortionate) hourly rate they can charge, but why is it so impossible for freelance artists to share the figure that they feel are worth?

Whilst doing my part-time stint as a music teacher- I found out my year 9s group could escape their music lesson by watching a really dire theatre production. It was so bad I had to put my hand over my mouth to stop the sounds of me guffawing leak out!

When discussing the terrible acting with other members of staff, one asked why it was so expensive to hire freelancers and theatre companies- and complained about the hourly rate. I rolled up my sleeves and explained the joys and trials of being a self-employed artist and babbled on about CPD, no sick pay, no holiday pay, marketing and promotion costs, being a small business blah de blah, moan, moan, moan.

Apparently, the Musician’s Union and other music organisation cannot suggest a standard fee because they are so contrasting. I also heard rumours that the average fee for community musicians in Birmingham is more than London. On the Birmingham City Council participatory arts course I passed last year they suggest a workshop leader ask for a minimum of £175 for a day and £100 for half a day.

What do you think? Should we have a standard fee for community musicians? What are creatives in the community worth?

27 thoughts on “What Are Creatives in the Community Worth?

  1. DK says:

    Standard fee suggests a parity of quality… plus there is a huge gap between perceived worth and actual benefits of external facilitators.

    Focus on kicking ass and providing transparent pedigree – then you can charge the bigger bucks 😉


  2. Bobbie says:

    Thanks for the comment DK- what if there is a bass rate then- so basic free lancing needs are met?

    I strive to kick ass (creatively). I definitely need to be shown the yen 🙂

  3. Antonio Roberts says:

    This is an interesting topic! On Flying Start we had Clare Edwards come to talk to us (as I’m sure you did) and she suggested that absolute beginners should expect £70 minimum for the day, intermediate/trained (like myself) £130 and more for the more experienced. So far I’m on about £100 as a workshop assistant and will soon be approaching schools and whatnot, but will be charging more than £100.

    I think teachers my up their noses at us ’cause we swan in looking all cool and hip (and, to be honest, we are 😉 ), show the children an exciting time, take their money then disappear. Methinks it may be resentment…

  4. Bobbie says:

    Hi Antonio!
    Thanks for your comment.

    There def could be an element of jealousy, but there is a definite lack of understanding about our costs.

    What kind of workshops are you working on at present? And what kind of workshops do you deliver- the links on your blog did not work. I’d love to know 🙂

  5. Clare Edwards says:

    As I’ve been quoted and because this is a subject close to my heart I thought I had better comment. As someone who has worked as an artist in schools and put lots of artists into school certainly there should not be a fixed rate for everyone – because believe me – some community musicians are worth more than others (experience level etc). I read some good advice by AN (http://www.a-n.co.uk) the artists network about charging rates in schools. They suggested that you look up what a beginner teacher gets – through to more experienced teachers and pitch on a daily rate that puts you on a level with a teacher of the same level of experience as you. Of course you also have to factor in your admin time, pension, holidays etc – but this way you are coming up with a daily rate that you can explain to schools easily. In an ideal world you should also be able to charge for planning time – but few projects can afford to do that.

    Part of the campaign should be about changing the perception some teachers/community groups about about the value of the work. Good community artists are not a nice luxury item – but their work changes lives and is transformational. But unfortunately – some artists do this work and are not good (like the theatre company you describe Bobbie) and they give the whole profession a bad name…

  6. dp says:

    My experience with artists has occasionally included a caginess that extends well beyond questions of pay. I’ve long thought it has something to do with being your own brand. Distinctions between artists are made almost solely on something that cannot be measured. So there’s an inherent interest in keeping one’s methods to oneself. It adds to the mystique, which can then cut both ways.

    For example, we have a general idea of what teachers ‘do’. Can you say the same for artists? That said, the Arts Council make clear statements about basic rates of pay, so there’s no excuse for clients not knowing that much…

  7. Bobbie says:

    Clare and DP,

    Thanks for your comments! 🙂

    Of course not all community musicians should get paid the same rate- I cannot expect to get the same as someone who has more experience and skills. I meant a base rate (not bass rate) to cover expenses at least.

    The person who served to catalyse my rant even stated that more experienced artists refused to work for them and that she even received venting/harsh email responses when advertising on artsjobs etc. It was a shame the money only came up in interview cos the work is really something I am interested in. So, do I work for pittance for the experience?

    The AN link looks great! I shall have a gander later on today!

    I think that although nihce skills are precious- sometimes sharing a few gems with potential clients can increase your marketability, something I hope to explore later. 🙂

  8. kerry says:

    Hi Bobbie
    As the person ‘who served to catalyse your rant’ is me I thought I would reply to the comments made.
    First you need to understand that as a person who works for a very small arts charity I have been lobbying our contractors for several years while I have been in the post – but they won’t budge. So what do I do? Tell them where to stick their contracts resulting in the organisation closing down and hundreds of beneficiaries being left in the cold?
    As anyone working in the sector will be aware sometimes what is expected of you far outweighs what can be achieved in an ideal world.
    I also explained to you, which you have failed to mention, is that our project based fees are £250 per day.
    We work with some excellent artists who take the sessional fee with no complaints – and I also apprecaite it isn’t for everyone but that is for you to choose.
    As an not-for-profit organisation that goes month by month wondering where the next bit of cash is coming from I think we are owed a break too.

  9. Bobbie says:

    Hi Kerry,

    I apologise about not mentioning the daily rate (but in conversation it seemed to be for less frequent/‘one off’ projects). I appreciate you are working hard to run these projects and did not say the small pay was at the profit of the organisation.

    I don’t want this to turn into a tit for tat argument, but I do recall the hourly rate was stated first and we both agreed that for a community artist who works an hour in the morning, it is impossible to then go off and do another elsewhere what with packing, clearing up and travel. So a morning or afternoon is used up.

    I work in both formal and informal education settings and for me I am trying to weigh up the benefits of both industries. Since graduating friends and family have yelled PGCE cos it’s more secure. Financially I know which one is less stress. In terms of rewards, creativity and working with diverse groups: being a community is musician very satisfying.

    I still felt as though I wanted to understand more about this issue and threw it open to the public domain regardless of whether or not it came back to bite me…

    The thing is, I am still keen to work in health settings and I did not say to you I was not interested. I just wanted more answers. I am getting them ?

  10. Clare Edwards says:

    Bobbie – my advice – freelancer to freelancer is: ask yourself:
    1) Do I really want this work – does it excite me?
    2) Will it develop my portfolio and therefore my career?
    3) Can I afford to live based on my other work and this put together?
    If you say yes to all three – then take it – but let the organisation involved (nicely) know what you would normally charge and this for this one time you will do the project for the fee on offer. But that they should not expect you to say yes always at this rate.

    If you do this – don’t moan about it once the project has started. If I agree to work at a rate of pay – I don’t carp about it later!

    Kerry – I’ve been in your shoes! On one hand you have the funders giving you a pittance but wanting the moon on a stick! On the other you have your conscience and artists telling you it is too little.

    The best thing we can do is make the case jointly as arts organisations and artists (it is not a battle between the two in most instances) for the work we do. We should do this to whoever will listen politicians, funders, teachers and the public as there is so little understanding my most people of the value of such work….

  11. Bobbie says:

    I am not working for them Clare.
    I would never sign up to work for someone and then slag them off.

    I was simply thinking about whether to or not, and what to do if similar situations arose (which I am sure they will) and am getting some good advice.

  12. Clare Edwards says:

    I absolutely understand! The slagging them off bit was general advice – not directed at you at all! But just to say that I have worked with freelancers in that way – where we both understand they are doing it as a lower rate for what ever reason. There are a some though who keep reminding you of that throughout the project and that is when it doesn’t work.

    It think you’ve asked some useful questions that other people will find useful too.

  13. kerry says:

    HI Bobby I agree that I neither want to have an argument abouth this it is an issue I face a lot – Clare makes some really valid points and I think it is important to look at things from both sides. You’ll remember that I said to you in our chat that I fully respect the decision of artists that only want to take on project based work at a higher cost – we all have to pay our rent afterall.
    What I was quite put out by was your comments about my ‘insubstantial response’ if that was so why not ask for more info? It wasn’t a formal interview and as you aren’t interested in taking the work at that rate anyway so it wouldn’t of jeapordised your chances.
    I actually feel that you have used me personally to bring this subject to the fore rather than the situation as a whole which I don’t appreciate.
    I would suggest giving people the best possible chance to offer up their set of circumstances before taking the attitude that you have.

  14. Bobbie says:

    Nice one Clare! Thanks for chairing the debate!

    What can I do to help make this so important, necessary and valid case so organisations like Kerry’s and whinge bags like me can get paid properly? 🙂

  15. Bobbie says:

    Hi Kerry- I have not intended to use you personally. It was a mixture of factors this week with schools and others that triggered it all off. Maybe I drew to heavily from our chat. Sorry!

    As you have proven you are simply trying to do your job.

  16. kerry says:

    well I think there is a positive to come out of this and I will personally aim to lobby our contractors further so we can get more money for our artists in the future. I dare say it will be a long battle but you have to start somewhere.

  17. Dave Harte says:

    There’s some new research from Nesta that shows that workers in all aspects of the Creative Industries, with the exception of music and the performing arts, get well above the national average salary. Even worse for musicians is the revelation that those of you who are ’embedded’ in other sectors (such as community work or schools or other non-music environments) earn the least (about £14k a year). It’s those guys in software and computer games who are earning over 80% more than the national average…

    I’ve done a summary of the research on my website.

  18. Nick Booth says:

    I’ve always been puzzled why the fee is not based on what schools pay for substitute teachers. I’m assuming that what we provide has more educational value than a the traditional babysitting role played by agency staff.

  19. Bobbie says:

    Thanks Nick and Dave!

    Dave that news is truly depressing!

    The funny or bittersweet thing is my partner works in the software industry; mainly working with unis.

    We both work hard- but I am skint and he isn’t. Does this mean his work is valued more?

  20. Dave Harte says:

    Not sure that I want to go near the ‘value’ issue. However, if your partner works in software within a uni then he needs to change jobs! The really interesting thing about the research is that although there are more ‘creative’ jobs in the non-creative sector you will get paid more by being a creative working in a creative company.

    In software you’ll get £5k more on average by working directly for a creative company but in music you’ll jump from about £14k to £24k.

    You should be wary of the stats though as they don’t include freelance figures (the government hasn’t really got an accurate way to include those figures) so all figures relate to employees within or outside of the music industry (and all the other sectors of the creative industries).


  21. /.robot says:

    Hi Dave,
    Don’t worry my company makes software *for* higher ed, rather than working from inside the institutions themselves!
    Interesting to note – although every software company I’ve freelanced or worked for has its fair share of people who could be considered “poor value”, its the large banks and insurance companies that have the largest quota of highly paid numpties. Why? Simply because those organisations can afford to hire armies of highly paid freelancers.
    Having spend some time as a freelancer, depressed with clearing up after sloppy overpaid “permies” subsidised by over-inflated bank charges, I personally choose to earn less in a more fulfilling job making a difference to University students and researchers.
    The price one pays for a more fulfilling and rewarding career path can quite often be lower wages, a balance between polyphony and pound notes is hard to acheive!

  22. Antonio Roberts says:


    yeah, I think there is a general misunderstanding about what we do.

    My website’s still being updated, so the links will work soon! Otherwise, right now I deliver workshops around the theme of the environment but with an arty twist e.g. print making with natural resources.

  23. Yemisi Blake says:

    Hi guys,
    It’s been really interesting reading your conversation.
    Valuing creative work is always going to be difficult and uncomfortable. Is your day rate worth any less if know one shows up to the workshop?
    Do you deserve to get paid more if the people you’re working with or for extend the brief of the workshop/ commission without doing the same for payment. These are a couple of the questions that I’ve had to think about recently and it’s been really helpful reading what you guys have said.

    At the moment I’m in a situation where my day rate goes up and down. Sometimes an organisation will other offer a good pay for a workshop and I’ll take without question. But often I work for organisations who have small budgets but provide imaginative projects that will really challenge my skills as a creative and allow be to develop working in new environments and new groups. Maybe my views will change when I’m doing creative work full-time, which I understand if a struggle for a lot of people. But for now I kinda see it as a juggle.


  24. Momodou says:

    This debate was really interesting and I learnt some new things but if I may comment I do not think Kerry should be phased out by the “insubstantial response” if Bobbie felt that if was insubstantial that is her own opinion and she may voice it anyhow she wants, it might offend people but hey thats life!

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