In the run up to the general election in May, a-n and AIR launched the Paying Artists Regional Advocates – a team of eleven artists across five cities who wanted to make sure more voices got heard in the campaign to secure payment for artists when exhibiting in publicly-funded galleries.
For two months the campaign erupted in a flurry of activity. In Liverpool, Cardiff, Glasgow, Bristol and Birmingham the Regional Advocates organised a series of events and actions to raise awareness of the campaign with artists, arts organisations and parliamentary candidates.
Support in Glasgow
The panel, chaired by Jim Tough (Executive Director of the Saltire Society), included Kyla McDonald (Artistic Director of Glasgow Sculpture Studios), Sukaina Kubba (Glasgow School of Art) and Emma Flynn (SAU) as well as representatives from across all the major parties; Moira Crawford (Green Party), Chris Young (Lib Deb), Gordon McCaskill (Conservative), Claire Baker (Scottish Labour’s Shadow Cabinet Secretary for Culture in the Scottish Parliament) and David MacDonald (Scottish National Party).
All were broadly supportive of the campaign – except for Conservative Gordon McCaskill, whose comments were met with disdain by the audience.
The heated debate resulted in the tag #PayingArtists entering Twitter’s UK Top 10 trending topics and the event was also picked up by the BBC radio programme Good Morning Scotland. Live illustrations of the event were produced by Glasgow artist Sean Mulvenna.
Not Paying Artists is Bad for You
In Birmingham another discussion event was planned by advocates Cheryl Jones and Ruth Claxton who also work together as Self-Service producing the Birmingham Art Map. ‘Not Paying Artists is Bad for You … Discuss’ was a stimulating event hosted at Eastside Projects on 19 May.
The panel, which included artists Elizabeth Rowe, Stuart Whipps, Anna Horton and Sophie Bullock alongside Gavin Wade (Director of Eastside Projects), Dorothy Wilson (CEO of mac Birmingham), and Toby Watley (Head of Exhibitions Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery), were invited to deliver short provocations to a packed and engaged audience.
The challenging discussion highlighted the need for education to ensure artists know their rights and to establish clear expectations and confidence around pay policies for both artists and galleries. Transparency was called for and a regional working group proposed. The potential for a city-wide ‘union’ was also flouted as a vehicle to empower local artists. The meeting ended on a positive note with calls for Birmingham to be a leading city on artists pay.
Coinciding with the event, a mass tweet supported by over 120 people went out via thunderclap. The message, which read simply ‘I support the #PayingArtists campaign. Sign up your support to secure a future for visual art and visual artists’ reached an audience of 174,481.
A share of the cake
As well as collecting photos of campaign supporters wearing specially designed rosettes and being interviewed in the double negative, Liverpool played host to an event that centred around cake – which got everyone at a-n very excited! #Followthecake saw Regional Advocates, Hannah Bitowski, Flis Mitchell and Kevin Hunt cycle a giant Paying Artists cake between the cities arts venues, including FACT, The Walker, Open Eye Gallery and The Bluecoat. Over 150 slices of cake were shared with members of the public and those organisations who reciprocate by sharing a slice of their cake with artists, in what the advocates appropriately described as ‘a big cakey metaphor’. #Followthecake took place as part of Liverpool’s light night event.
When S Mark Gubb and Sean Edwards weren’t busy advocating for the campaign with arts organisations across Wales, including Visual Arts Galleries Wales (VAGW) and the newly formed Visual Arts Wales (VAW), or taking part in PITCH arts and culture talk shows on Radio Cardiff, they were busy collaborating on a city-wide and national poster campaign.
The series of 10 posters feature the word ‘Pay’ as either noun or verb translated into the 4 main languages of the British Isles. The understated design of the posters ensured they stood out amidst the competition on Cardiff’s busy fly-posting sites and their use of each nation’s language universalised the issue of artists pay across the UK.
In Bristol activity was bubbling up for weeks in anticipation and support of the city’s Paying Artists relay race organised by Libita Clayton and Ben Owen. The pair hosted an informal discussion about the campaign, garnered support from some key initiatives in the city including the collective CHAMP and collected photos of campaign supporters wearing badges – not least Bristol’s Mayor George Ferguson. Athletes training in #PayingArtists T-shirts, specially designed by Clayton, were appearing at sports events across the city, including running clubs, Roller-Derby, Lacrosse, Circus Skills, Yoga and 5-a-side footy.
A Paying Artists baton and ‘Valuing Arts | Valuing Artists’ finishing line banner were commissioned from set-designer Kelly Jago for the event which coincided with Spike Island’s annual open studios. To cheers from on-looking crowds, 26 runners participated in the relay around the cities NPO galleries, distributing badges and postcards to the public en route. Much of the activity was recorded and a Paying Artists film that captures the diversity of the sports involved has been produced by Owen.