Somebody asked me ‘who funds your work, Dan?’ on a Facebook thread about fair pay for artists and funding for the arts.
So, I think maybe it’s time to come out and tell the truth. Nobody does.
I’m self-employed – I’ve pretty much always been self-employed, from working as a freelance technician for Brighton venues and touring with garage bands after 6th form college, through to setting up Revolutionary Arts, about thirteen years ago. I don’t have a regular wage, or an independent income; I work from project to project. I’m either commissioned to do a piece of work, or raise the funds I need to make my own projects happen. I’m currently working for Bedford Creative Arts, the Sussex Police & Crime Commissioner, The Shell Grotto, a joint project between the Powell-Cotton Museum and the Dreamland Trust, and writing a piece for publication in New Zealand.
Wherever possible, I use the funds I’ve got to employ other artists as well, whether that’s taking The Caravan Gallery photographers around some empty shops, inviting Alice Angus to create a site-specific temporary public art for Worthing Pier, commissioning hundreds of metres of bunting from Sew Swansea’s Natasha Middleton, getting Janet Vaughan to design a pop up shop kit, or working with social artist Lloyd Davis on #wewillgather.
Within each project, I try to squeeze enough resources to do something I think is worthwhile, and to spend some time thinking, and to make the space to develop my own practice, too.
And while being self-employed gives you amazing possibilities (to travel, to meet interesting people, to walk down to Margate harbour and stand with Turner Contemporary behind you while you watch the sun set) it’s also incredibly tough. Don’t ever believe it isn’t.
There’s a constant, low-level worry about where the next cheque is coming from. With that is an acceptance that a serious commitment to a practice that’s equal parts art, social action and constant innovation comes above safety and selling-out, and that means possibly never having a steady enough income to own my own home.
That constant worry is nothing compared to the day-to-day practical concerns. This week, email’s been lost and restored in such great quantities that it crashes my email client, so I’ve had a rapid course in all things to do with mail servers and sorting massive amount of email. And amongst this, somewhere in the middle of all that email was a virus which has destroyed lots of files as well.
But this is normal; being self-employed means you’re the IT geek and the public-facing marketing team, the motivational speaker and the book-keeper, you’re writing the business plan and the next project proposal. All day, every day. It’s incredibly concentrated, it’s all consuming, it takes constant effort. Right now, after a week of struggle and watching the IT failures stack up on top of each other, it’s quite hard to find the energy to carry on.
Like I said, being self-employed is hard work, and so’s being a social artist. And don’t ever believe it isn’t.