When to Work for Free?

I am not going to give you the answer you may be seeking. That’s because this is a blog…and ultimately the right answer is deeply personal.

At best I hope to just talk (type, really) through a few points in this blog. The topic of working for “exposure” often rears its frustrated head during our Ignite class. Artists are tired of being asked to give away their work and/or creative energy for free. I get it.

So when do you give away your art?

It is up to you. Really. But I am going to go through a few ways of thinking about intentional giving.

Fundraisers

There is a lot of discussion in the Atlanta art community right now around art auctions/art fundraisers

Image by Chad Gierlich via flick
Image by Chad Gierlich via flick

and how they add or detract from the fair valuation of art. I am not adding to that conversation in this blog at this time. What I do want to examine is mission. If you believe in the mission of the organizer or nonprofit that is raising funds, then feel free to give. If you feel uneasy about the balance of power, then don’t give. Support the mission of organizations that speak to you and your core values. I am not putting the onus of creating value in the marketplace on the artist–what I am saying is this: be selective, be purposeful, be discriminate. Corporations do this ALL they time. They don’t give to everyone who asks.

Think about why you want to give and the impact of your gift. I know that I cannot personally give to every cause. Neither can you (unless you have a ton of money and in that case, let’s get lunch!). If you happen to receive accolades and exposure for your gift, great. I will never promise you that will happen if you give to C4. I will do my best to appreciate the heck out of you, but I would rather someone give because they believe in the work we are doing. There are some very worthy causes in our community. For thought: the average American household contributes more than $2,900 annually to charities.

Your Budget

If you want to give to a cause each year, put that in your budget. Make it its own expense line. When you have reached your giving cap, you can make the decision to dig deeper or you can say, “I am sorry, I have reached my budget for donations this year.” Again, corporations and wealthy people do this ALL the time. Track what you give. In an ideal world, I would love to be able to give away to charitable causes 10% of my income every year.

Tax Deductions

This is not tax advice. Just some stuff I know. Many of you know that if you are a visual artist, you cannot deduct the fair market value of your art donated to an auction, etc. There are legislators seeking to change this law. Realize that the change in law will not offer the fair market deductions for auctions, necessarily. Fundraising supports charitable work but itself is not a charitable activity. Furthermore, actors, dancers, singers, doctors, lawyers, CPAs, and the list goes on, do not receive a tax deduction for the time they give to a charitable cause. But they do it every year. In fact Georgia Lawyers for the Arts has a cadre of attorneys who provide in-kind service benefits in the millions. Millions. None of those attorneys are able to deduct their time spent.

A tax deduction would be a nice bonus to giving and C4 supports legislation to help artists received fair market value for art work that has a public benefit, but don’t let that be the reason or deterrent. Give because you believe in the cause.

Project Work

Fry from FuturamaArtists are often underpaid. Negotiate. Work for money, not exposure. Determine your fair value, and demand it. Your fellow artists will also be the better for it, because it will encourage the market to appreciate fair value for all arts workers. Make sure you learn about budgeting. Understand the difference between direct and indirect costs. Pay yourself–I mean really. This is key. When we asked funders what one of the biggest mistakes artists make when submitting a grant application they replied that artists often omit in their budgets a line item for their own artist’s fee. Add it as a line item in your project budget. You may have to invest up front as you begin your art career–this isn’t unusual in most businesses. Many businesses began with “debt equity.” The restaurant business, your local gym, the oil change-slash-car-wash-place, local nursery, and the list goes on. As a freelancer, do your best to move to a place where your total costs are covered in your project expense budgets.

Work toward not coming out of pocket for a project that someone else hired you to complete. You will resent the work.

There are projects that you will want to put your own money into. You may self-produce to: raise awareness for a cause, experiment with a new idea, work with a colleague you really respect, work on a piece of material (like a script) that has had your heart for awhile…or you just want to try something new. All valid reasons.

My only advice: find balance. I mean balance of power, balance of live/work, balance of paid/unpaid, and balance of love for the practice.

Internships/Apprenticeships 

I am personally hesitant to take on interns. This is because a true internship benefits the the intern more than the host company. In fact, interns are not supposed to help you expand your bottom line. I do not want free labor. I want our interns to get a) educational credit b) paid or c) a ton of experience that will help her/his career move forward. Volunteers and interns are not the same.

I think it is also worth mentioning that internships by their very nature, sometimes breed inequality. How? Think about it. You can’t support a family on an internship unless you have savings, a family member willing to cover your expenses while you intern, or the ability to pay back loans.

I am not against internships. I have had some wonderful internship opportunities.

When considering an internship, think about what you will receive from your training. How will you use it? Are you making connections? Do your career goals align with the internship opportunity? Are you learning marketable skills? Does the internship offer a stipend? Who benefits more, you or the company?

I am sure you have your own thoughts about the arts economy. Feel free to leave a comment. Remember, this is not an exhaustive research post. I am also not speaking for every staff member or board member…how could I? I am one person. I can say that as an organization, we want to see artists being paid fair wages. It’s the right thing to do. Period.

Here are a few resources for your consideration:

Working Artists and the Greater Economy (W.A.G.E)

Department of Labor & the Fair Labor Standards Act 

Image by Chad Gierlich via flick

 

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