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?