Feedback Feedback

Inappropriate material?
Ideas? Technical issues?
» Feedback to a-n

Artistsí work in 2012

Artists work in 2012

Neil Armstrong, ‘Repetition’.(from The Specials Project).

Neil Armstrong, ‘Repetition’.
(from The Specials Project).

An analysis and commentary on artists’ work and opportunities in 2012.


This research paper is the latest in an ongoing series that looks specifically at the nature and value of openly-advertised work and opportunities for visual and applied artists. Using data drawn from, we can provide sectoral intelligence on the variables in the patterns of employment in relationship to changing arts and cultural policies and economic contexts.

We’ve used this data collection method since 1989 to track the changing face of artists’ employment in particular to identify the trends and issues arising from the various offers and circumstances of awards and fellowships, academic posts, art vacancies, commissions, exhibitions, residencies, competitions and prizes.

When set within contextual evidence and analysis from other related sources, our research provides unique insights into employment and career development opportunities for visual and applied artists. We feed this research back – to artists themselves as they pursue their careers, to arts and cultural policy consultations, and into the art and design courses that seek to prepare the next generation of artists.

Key facts

  • In 2012, the overall value of work on offer to artists was £5m (20%) less than in the pre-recession year of 2007.
  • Only 39% of jobs and opportunities in 2012 offered to pay anything to artists, in comparison with 57% stating this in the recession year of 2008.
  • In 2012, commissions provided 17% of the value of all work, with an average budget of £58,800: In comparison in 2007 (pre-recession), the figure was 62% and commission budgets averaged £100K.
  • The value of residencies dropped to an all-time low – just over 1% of the value of all work offered in 2012. Residencies paid an average fee of £2,600 – this in contrast with £7,354 paid in 2011 and £6,342 in the pre-recession year of 2007.
  • 9% of the value of all work in 2012 came through local authorities, a similar level to 2010 and 2011.
  • A new data set reveals that 32% of awards, prizes and exhibitions charged a submission fee to artists.
  • The implementation of Universal Credits will have a detrimental affect on low paid artists. They will be assumed to be earning the minimum wage of £873 each month even if they don’t.

Artistsí livelihoods and portfolio working

The ecology of the arts encourages portfolio working, with many artists tending to rely for their livelihoods on a combination of projects and other income sources to maintain their practice. This is borne out by a-n’s own research as well as by the 2008 study Creative Graduates – Creative Futures.

Fees to and income for artists is the subject of the Paying artists research programme that commenced in 2013, that is led by AIR and delivered with a-n. Early evidence from the initial research commissioned from DHA Communications reveals that 72% of artists surveyed earned less than £10,000 a year from their practice. The 2011 survey to artists indicated an average income of £9,000. Whilst holding exhibitions is of great importance to artists in terms of progressing their careers, nearly half of those who had held an exhibition in a publicly-funded gallery in the last three years reported that exhibiting their work is prohibitively expensive.

The 2013 Paying artists research summary demonstrates that whilst most artists recognise that holding exhibitions is an important way to gain critical status and develop their visibility, exhibitions don’t make much of a contribution to artists’ annual income levels. Few publicly-funded galleries openly or privately offer fees or production budgets. Artists often report using income gained from undertaking commissions, residencies and arts workshops to support their exhibition practice. However as opportunities and levels of reward in these ‘arts service’ areas are also in decline through cutbacks in the public and private sector, many artists are reporting great hardship in maintaining their practice.

Looking in detail at the 2012 data reveals that the volume of exhibition opportunities on offer in 2012 (at 13%) represents a reduction of thirteen percentage points over the pre-recession year of 2007. This drop may in part be due to an increase to 18% (from 5% in 2007) in the volume of competitions or prizes. Some galleries during 2012 seemed to have moved to make exhibition submissions more thematic or manageable and alongside, to introduce entry charges. It is notable however that the average value of a competition opportunity in 2007 (at £7,126) more than halved in 2012, to £3,226.

Commission opportunities have always been highly prized by artists. Because historically they have commanded larger budgets, they provide scope for research and development, including opportunity to use of new techniques, materials or collaborative processes. Whilst in 2007 the average commission budget of £100,000 supported this, by 2012 the average budget had dropped to £58,800. Thus Devon County Council’s major participatory arts commission with £300,000 budget over three years is an exception amongst commission opportunities that generally ranged from £5,000 to £12,000.

Artists’ residencies amounted to 6% of all opportunities on offer in 2012, a figure similar to 2007 and the years between. However, whilst the average income from a residency in 2007 stood at £4,860, by 2012 it amounted to just £2,607. As successful artists must often travel to and take up temporary accommodation with a host whilst undertaking highly personalised community consultation and engagement, it could be argued that some residencies such as Paintings in Hospital’s animation residency in a hospital which combines face-to-face engagement with production of new work require higher fees. 84% of artists surveyed by Artworks Scotland in 2013 confirmed that gaining paid work was a main reason for undertaking work such as residencies.

Notions of what constitutes good practice for artists working in participatory settings, including remuneration, is integral within the overall Artworks initiative, with research by Artworks London identifying that ‘fair pay’ rated higher in measuring what would raise the status of artists’.

Salaried posts in academic settings – such as lecturing or research posts are highly sought-after, with 23% of all work and opportunities in 2012 coming from this sector. A 2011 AIR survey indicated that “51% of members had worked in some capacity in HE in the past five years: 64% as a freelance or occasional lecturer, 39% part-time and 9% full-time. Over half (56%) received up to 25% of their income from work in HE, whilst 16% received 25-50% from this area. A further 29% earned 50% or more of their income from HE work.

Charges to artists

Notable in 2012 is a new trend within residencies that are offering no fee to a successful artist but may instead to provide free or cheaper studio space whilst charging all applicants for the residency a submission fee of £5-£15. Because of this growing trend to charge artists to submit applications for these and other listed opportunities, we have incorporated this area of data collection into the 2012 study to enable comparators in future years.

In 2012, we know that 32% of opportunities including opens, competitions, prizes and exhibition opportunities cited an entry fee. Whilst some are modest at £3-£5 per work, and £25-£30 is the average per works submitted, examples can be found of much higher charges such as “£200 for 4-8 works”. In an interview, Ludlow Open organiser Jo King said: “The artists’ entry fee (at £16) covers a small part of our admin costs, setting up the selection day, and contributing toward the cost of artwork transport.”

Some artists have adopted the principle of not entering competitions which charge whilst others report they cannot afford to engage with such opportunities because the fees are a barrier. As one artist commented: “The submission fee model is exploited more than often as a way of raising money [for the host venue] which exploits the vanity, hopes or desperation of many artists.” Whilst it might be argued that submission fees are a necessary overhead costs to be born by artists, the diminishing levels of income for artists on offer against the increase in such fees suggest that this proposition is untenable for many artists. Interviewed for a new publication for new graduates one artist reported a 1:8.75 rate of getting accepted following an open submission and a 80/20 split between time spent on generating and pitching for work and making the work itself.

Other funding sources for artists

Because data on grants awarded is not available from the arts councils in a format we can readily make use of, the following research-based evidence from a report published in 2009/10 is provided for illustrative purposes. This was commissioned by a-n from Dany Louise and published as A fair share: direct funding to individual artists from UK arts councils.

  • In 2009/10, Arts Council of Wales’ rolling funding scheme gave out £182,789 in individual grants to artists (average of £2,373 each).
  • In Northern Ireland, the-small grants scheme awarded £207,900 in 2009/10 in sums of £1,300-£1,700.
  • In England in 2009/10, 485 artists were successful in gaining £2.836m from the overall £54m Grants for the Arts (GFTA) allocation (average of £5,848 each). Informally gained information for 2012/13 suggests this ratio did not substantially change.
  • In Scotland in 2009/10, the Scottish Arts Council (forerunner to Creative Scotland awarded £386,500 in grants to seventy-six artists (average of £5,085 each).

It has been suggested in our discussions with Arts Council England that visual artists fare well in the success rates for GFTA against other artforms. However, it is unclear whether in making that assessment whether the ratio of practitioner groups is taken into account. 2011 census data suggests that artists and photographers together accounted for 39% of all artform practitioners, with writers at 25%, musicians at 15%, actors and entertainers at 15%, dancers and choreographers at 6%.

Impact of Universal Credits on low-paid artists

Artists on low pay – whether employed or self-employed – have in past years been eligible to claim Tax Credits that have helped to cushion the impact of low pay, variable work patterns of employment and cash-flow difficulties.

With implementation of Universal Credits (UC), they and other low-paid groups in society will be worse off. Under UC, the self-employed will be deemed to be “gainfully self-employed”, and therefore earning at least the national minimum wage for 35 hours per week. Even if a self-employed person incurs a loss in a [monthly] assessment period, they will still be deemed to earn £873. Furthermore, any loss incurred cannot be carried forward to offset against income of future assessment periods as there will be no provision for averaging.

This has the potential to have a huge impact on artists’ livelihoods. If they have a profitable month, their actual earnings will need to be declared. However, if their profit for a month is less than £873, they will still be deemed to earn that much for UC purposes.

Matters arising

In Artists rates of pay 1989-2004, the earliest report in this series, we noted the growing disparity between levels of remuneration for practitioners and those of arts organisers. Advertisements carried by a-n showed that rate for an artist’s fellowship in 1989 was broadly similar to that of an artform officer in a (then) regional arts association. Between 1989 and 2004, when index linked, salaries for arts funding officers had risen by 41%.

An example now shows that whilst London-based Stanley Picker Fellowships in Design & Fine Art 2013 are offered at £12,000, the salary on offer for a London-based Arts Council Manager is £31,623.

When mapping the new cultural landscape for the visual arts, we look forward to helping to make the case for sustaining the arts, and as part of this ensuring that the relationship between artists and visual arts professionals is more equitable in terms of remuneration and good working practices.

Opportunities Compared 1

Volume and value of opportunities offered to artists 2007-2009:

Type No 2007 Value 2007 (£) No 2008 Value 2008 (£) No 2009 Value 2009 (£)
Awards / fellowships 53 2,309,050 59 3,430,460 87 3,944,650
Academic     125 3,653,024 214 4,434,053
Art vacancies 230 3,502.097 147 1,859,818 173 2,355,696
Commissions 153 16,822,612 90 3,089,335 141 8,858,106
Exhibitions 403 2,150 346 39,238 524 530,445
Residencies 107 520,109 73 256,694 96 279,987
Competitions / prizes 82 584,400 68 458,762 140 1,808,595
Other 484 3,090,784 265 1,164,407 125 312,157
Total 1,512 26,831202 1,173 13,521,278 1,500 22,523,689


Volume and value of opportunities offered to artists 2010-2012:

Type No 2010 Value 2010 (£) No 2011 Value 2011 (£) No 2012 Value 2012 (£)
Awards / fellowships 64 3,889,794 82 4,808,495 76 9,147,740
Academic 193 4,386,461 144 3,405,366 185 4,276,012
Art vacancies 201 2,354,192 190 1,954,602 189 2,926,510
Commissions 127 2,722,843 126 2,641,063 63 3,708,063
Exhibitions 417 476,500 418 455,996 194 130,939
Residencies 81 461,250 127 232,836 96 250,273
Competitions / prizes 123 628,801 127 933,983 268 864,583
Other 271 207,572 345 303,162 460 191.880
Total 1,477 15,127,413 1,559 14,735,503 1,531 21,496,000

Opportunities compared 2

Expressed as % of overall volume of opportunities offered to artists 2007-2012:

Type 2007 2008   2009 2010 2011 2012
Residencies 7% 6% 6% 5% 8% 6%
Commissions 10% 8% 9% 9% 8% 4%
Exhibitions 27% 29% 35% 28% 27% 13%
Awards / fellowships 4% 5% 6% 4% 5% 5%
Competitions / prizes 5% 6% 9% 8% 8% 18%

Volume of opportunities with money attached

Comparing 2007-2012:

Year %
2012 39%
2011 36%
2010 37%
2009 42%
2008 57%
2007 43%

Major employer categories

Comparing 2009 - 2012:

Type 2009 2010 2011 2012
HE/FE sector 23% 33% 27% 23%
Arts organisations 11% 13% 10% 23%
Local authorities 6% 10% 10% 9%
Trusts 2% 3% 4% 1%
Healthcare 2% 0% 0% 0%

References and resources

Art work: Artist’s jobs and opportunities. 1989-2003

Art work analysed: Artists’ jobs and opportunities. 2003 – 2005

Art work in 2007

Changing face of artists employment

Artists work in 2011


Susan Jones is Director and Publisher of a-n The Artists Information Company and a researcher and published writer on visual arts matters.

Data collection for this report was undertaken by Annie Padwick.

First published: May 2013

Post your comment

No one has commented on this article yet, why not be the first?

To post a comment you need to login

©  the artist(s), writer(s), photographer(s) and a-n The Artists Information Company
All rights reserved.
Artists who are current subscribers to a-n may download or print this text for the limited purpose of use in their business or professional practice as artists.
Parts of this text may be reproduced either in accordance with the provisions of the Copyright Designs and Patents Act 1988 (updated) or with written permission of the publishers.