The Paying artists campaign is important for the future of contemporary visual arts. We won’t have great artists making significant work in the years to come if we don’t tackle the problem of low or no pay. I raised this issue publicly when the Arts Council announced plans ten years ago to improve funding levels to contemporary visual arts – I asked how can artists afford to live in places like London if they don’t get paid for their contributions to galleries?
When I graduated in 1991 with an MA from Goldsmiths, I was fortunate to win the £1,500 Barclays Young Artist Award. And of course I looked for work and was glad to find it with Shape, helping to develop projects which make the arts accessible to disabled, homeless and imprisoned people in day centres, schools, etc.
I thought galleries would be fighting for my attention but absolutely nothing happened. I sent slides to two well-known London galleries and it was a case of “don’t ring us, we’ll ring you” – I was surprised.
It has taken many years of dedicated time in the studio for me to get to where I now am. Early exhibitions in the 90s in funded galleries such as The Bluecoat, Liverpool and London Printworks, the Dressing Down show at Ikon and A Sense of Place at Iniva in 2005 were all vital to building a strong art practice that has brought me national and international recognition.
That’s why I’m giving my support to this vital campaign, which makes a really persuasive case for artists to be paid when showing in the splendid network of publiclyfunded galleries we now have.
Removing the financial barriers that many artists face will make it possible for artists now and in the future to come from all parts of society, creating art for the public to see that covers the broad spectrum of human experience.
Image: Yinka Shonibare. Photo: Marcus Leith, © Royal Academy of Arts, London, 2014