25 Ways for Artists to Think About Economics

Poetry, Politics, Rambles, Theatre

I wrote this brain-dump for Andy Field, who was asked to prepare a presentation on “how artists can think about new financial models for themselves and for audiences”. He collected 150 bits of advice, sold them for £1 each, and used the proceeds to pay a violinist to play music for the length of the presentation: hurrah for the meeting of form and content! I keep attempting to write something long and thoughtful on art and money and how it all fits together, or maybe organise a conference about it, or a piece of action-research, or… well, none of that has happened yet. Maybe it will. In the mean time, two very nice people recently reminded me that I’d written this, so I reread it, and it turns out I’d already said most of the things I’ve been thinking about. So here it is. it’s a start, anyway.

“New financial model” does not mean “working for free”. If someone asks you to work for free and gives you nothing in return and pretends it’s a new financial model, tell them to fuck off.

Next time a venue says it will pay you in experience and exposure, ask them if you can buy tickets to their shows with that.

Go read about the Industrial Workers of the World. Start a union.

Read everything that Radical Routes have on the subject of co-ops. Start a co-op.

Go to an organisation in the UK Social Centre Network and ask them how they organise and fund themselves. Work out how this can be apply to an arts organisation. (Many of them are already arts organisations.)

If you’re doing self-promotion well, you’ll probably feel like an arsehole. Ask other people if you are being an arsehole. If they say you aren’t, you’re doing OK.

Raffles are FANTASTIC. Ask someone who grew up in a rural area how to do them well. This is technically an old financial model. Sorry.

If you are working for free for an organisation or event and other people in the organisation or event are getting paid, something may be fucked up. Exploiting labour is one of the oldest financial models there is.

Take assertiveness, confidence, public speaking, or call centre training, and apply everything you’ve learned to negotiations with venues and producers. Don’t worry about your embarrassment, shyness, awkwardness or shame. It is OK to feel these things, but don’t let them stop you. Asking to get paid is part of building a new financial model for the whole arts sector.

Whenever you work with another organisation, ask them if you can have a look at their budget for the project. While reading it, ask yourself if you would spend the money differently. When you’re in their shoes, make sure you do.

Every new financial model has to interact with a lot of really crappy old financial models. A new financial model is not a new world: it is a laboratory in an old world. It is OK if something goes wrong. It is OK if something explodes. This is how we learn.

Start a reading group for Marx’s Capital. Start a reading group for Smith’s Wealth of Nations. Start a reading group for Kropotkin’s Mutual Aid. Have a party.

If you pay less for a Pay-What-You-Can show than for a set price show, why are you paying that much for the set price show?

Experiment with shoplifting. You will learn a lot about how property works.

Next time you throw a house party, ask the guests to pay. Prepare your arguments.

View the writing of economic impact reports as a radical act. Make it so.

Why do you need to make money from your art? Seriously. Make a list of the answers. Think of ways you could meet all those needs without money. Make it so.

Is your labour the same sort of labour as the labour of someone who works in a call centre? Write a list of the reasons it is. Write a list of the reasons it isn’t. Now make it better for both of you. You might already be the same person.

Poetry publishing is subsidised by pay-to-enter poetry competitions. What the fuck is that all about?

There is very little stigma attached to a musician self-publishing their first EP. There is massive stigma attached to a poet self-publishing their first pamphlet. Discuss.

Financial models are the same thing as power models. How money is distributed is determined by how decisions get made. You can’t have a new financial model without also inventing a new decision-making process.

When you pay for art, what are you paying for? (a) The experience; (b) The object; (c) To support the artist; (d) To support the producer; (e) Because you have to; (f) Because you never thought not to; (g) Other (please state).

Here are some things an artist might be: (a) Labourer; (b) Entrepeneur; (c) Community bard; (d) Amateur or hobbyist; (e) Commodity; (f) Self-facilitating media node (arsehole); (g) Social Worker; (h) Scrounger. Which of these do you want to be? Make it so.

If you give money to buskers, do you actually stop to listen?

When somebody brings a bottle of wine to your dinner party, do you feel obligated to pay them, or to bring a bottle of wine when you go round to their house? What does this mean for the way we do art?

3 thoughts on “25 Ways for Artists to Think About Economics

  1. Yes, still a huge stigma to self publish poetry. Is viewed as “your so bad that nobody will publish you” but that same concept does not apply to musicians. Ah well… In some respects, it is probably more difficult to get poetry published than to produce a cd, so why this stigma still exists is a mystery to me.

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