The Creative Hustle: How artists make it pay
Updated: Dec 14, 2021
The Creative Hustle is an ongoing research project, designed to collate and share frank information on the realities of how creative practitioners make a financially sustainable living. Through a series of interviews and anonymous profiles, it will build a picture of how creative freelancers combine a range of jobs and income sources to make a living. By sharing those stories, my aim is to help more people to understand the options, opportunities, challenges and reality of making a living in the arts.
The first series of profiles are now available to read:
There's this element that I devalue myself. So whenever work comes in, I have a rate card to go back to, to go "What did I tell myself I was worth?".
Profile 002: The Writer Director (theatre and film).
"I didn't realise that following the dream of making theatre meant I had to give up on almost every other dream I had".
"I don't want to say it was a waste of time, because, clearly, I enjoyed it. But it still makes me angry
that that's all I got paid, I have to admit".
Profile 004: The Visual Artist (film and video).
"All the [other artists] are getting fees, and they wanted me to facilitate workshops for no fee. It's like, yeah, what the fuck, basically".
Profile 005: The Writer (books).
"It's really only in the past year that I've come to realise how many writers have either rich families or they're supported by their partners".
Profile 006: The Visual Artist (photography and textiles).
"[In order to take paid work] I had to choose to give up Disability Living Allowance, because the system is absolutely incapable of dealing with any kind of nuance".
(If you use a screen reader or don't find Issuu accessible, you can access the profiles in a different format via the following Google Doc links: Profile 001, Profile 002, Profile 003, Profile 4, Profile 005, Profile 006).
Some notes on context and scope:
I want to be clear that this research is not a substitute for, or an avoidance of, the (justified) calls for a fundamental re-thinking of arts funding, and of challenging the employment structures that create the precarious nature of much freelance work and exacerbate inequality. That work is necessary and important. Meanwhile, I see this research as a step toward working within the system as it exists, whilst championing longer term change. As Otegha Uwagba puts it in her (brilliant) new book We Need To Talk About Money:
"The difficulty of trying to reconcile feminism - the logical endpoint of which has to be anti-capitalism - with more prosaic economic concerns is as complicated as it ever was. For me, and I imagine for many other women, that challenge is further complicated by my desire to thrive under the prevailing economic system even as I recognise its many flaws".
And as alluded to in Otegha's quote, there are complex and intersecting circumstances that shape who is (and who isn't) able to create a living in these conditions. The Creative Hustle profiles so far touch on the impact of gender, age, ethnicity, disability, caring responsibilities, class, rural vs. urban living, pregnancy and artform. This is by no means an exhaustive list, and nor do this limited sample pretend to do justice to the complexity and sheer variety of circumstances. I've tried to represent a range of people and lives in this initial sample, but it should go without saying that more profiles and conversations are urgently needed. I'm doing my best to make that happen.
As I hope these stories illustrate, there isn't one 'right' answer to making it work - but there is strength and power in the (varied, complicated, messy) answers that we each work out for ourselves. In sharing those experiences publicly, I hope we can start to create space for more creative freelancers to find the Hustle that works for them. Equally, I hope it'll help those new to the industry, or considering freelancing, to make a genuine and realistic judgement on the risks and opportunities they might face. And finally, I hope those in a position to offer work to freelancers find inspiration here to support more people to make this Creative Hustle feasible.
The Creative Hustle: How artists make it pay is a research project conceived and delivered by me, Kathryn Welch, and delivered with support from Creative Scotland's Stay, See, Share fund.
In keeping with the ethos of this project, I'm sharing here that I was paid £1,500 to research, write up, and share these 6 profiles. In the application, I quoted this at 5 days @ £300 per day, but in reality was probably more like 8 days @ £185 per day. Interviewees were paid £100 for their participation, which typically amounted to about 1.5 hours work per person. One interviewee waived their fee to enable an additional profile to be created.