Most artists agree that it is important to show their work in a public gallery or museum, where it can sometimes be assumed that the chance of an exhibition is payment enough. However you wouldn’t make the same argument in any other field of work whether it’s the House of Lords or the curator or director of an art gallery.
Artists being paid for public exhibitions is a principle that I and other artists campaigned hard for over 30 years ago. And we won the argument: A letter dated 1977 from Peter Davies, Visual Arts Officer for Northern Arts gave me £50 as “the first artist in the country to get an exhibition fee”.
The assumption might be it’s an honour and the artist benefits from exposure and possibly sales – although not all artists create pieces for sale. This might work if no one else benefited from the exhibition but of course everyone – cleaners, directors, security guards and salespeople – all benefit. The community also benefits not simply from ‘quality of life’ or an overall good feeling from a stimulating cultural and built environment but economically. The Argentineans say “a country without a culture is a country without a face” and cities and towns benefit materially and financially from the tourism, the jobs in galleries and from businesses which tend to locate to areas with a high cultural profile.
The economic argument for the creative industries has been well-rehearsed over the past few decades. The health of the visual arts and artists is central to this and arguably feeds these industries. This is why the Paying Artists campaign deserves our full support.
Image: Conrad Atkinson, The Oil Ship, 2013.