Equity: ACE must tackle ‘working for free’ culture

Christine Payne.
Christine Payne.
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Equity has called on Arts Council England to do more to tackle the issue of unpaid work in the culture sector, claiming action is needed before working for free becomes “so endemic that many artists are forced out of the profession”.

The union has urged ACE to insist that the bodies it funds engage workers on industry standard agreements, and also called on the body to tackle inequality and discrimination in the entertainment sector.

Equity made its case in a response to the culture, media and sport select committee’s inquiry into the work of ACE, which assesses the organisation’s scale, scope and remit, as well as the weighting of its funding towards arts organisations in London.

Christine Payne, general secretary of Equity, writes in the union’s submission that members have reported that organisations are “investing significant amounts in modernising their management, marketing and administrative structures” at the expense of productions and performers’ pay.

Payne states: “If funding allocations are to be cut, ACE should also set maximum levels for the proportion of funds spent on administration and ensure that there is a fair balance between the employment opportunities and the remuneration available for creative workers and support and administrative staff,” she writes.

The union says publicly funded organisations should have a strong artistic leadership, with authority at least “on par with the administrative and managerial oversight”.

She adds that in order to create sustainable employment in the arts sector, funding bodies should insist that organisations in receipt of subsidy engage workers on “at least industry standard terms and conditions”.

“ACE has an important role to play in tackling the culture of working for free. Our members have told us that low and no pay work is a growing problem… and action must be taken, including by ACE, before the culture of working for free becomes so endemic that many artists are forced out of the profession,” she writes.

Payne also says Equity is concerned that ACE is “failing to have due regard to the need to eliminate discrimination or to advance equality of opportunity” in compliance with the Equality Act 2010.

She states that ACE’s national portfolio organisations are not currently required to provide equality monitoring data broken down by “protected characteristics” such as age, sex and race, and that ACE is therefore “unable to say how many performers with ‘protected characteristics’ were employed on the stages of the organisations it funds”.

ACE chief executive Alan Davey said the organisation had submitted its own response to the review and he welcomed Equity’s contribution.

Davey added: “Our 10-year strategic framework, Great Art and Culture for Everyone, reflects the importance that we place on diversity and removing barriers to entering the arts.

“This includes making entry routes into employment and opportunities more accessible, to help develop careers, artists to take bold creative risks and to ensure that work is being created by people as diverse as the audience in this country.

“In two years’ time we will be into our second investment period under the framework, and we will hold ourselves to account according to the measures we set out in that plan, which tries to capture the whole sense of what we have to do.”

1 Comment

  1. (I’m going to go out on a limb that even surprises myself because I am a small-time actor/director/producer but….)

    “…action is needed before working for free becomes “so endemic that many artists are forced out of the profession”.

    Does that have to be a completely bad thing? Does art HAVE to be a profession? I say this a devotee of Augusto Boal who saw the innate elitism of traditional western theater which decrees that only certain people are allowed to write and tell stories and the un-chosen are to sit quietly and listen. The earliest theatre of all was open-air festivals in which everyone was invited to join in.

    The commodification of theatre seems to set limits everywhere. Quality is equated with a person’s paycheck. Good stories are defined by what sells. Young men and women tell me that there is no reason to do theater (or sports) unless you get paid for it. Amateur efforts are increasingly marginalized and we seem to be encouraging generations of people to be passive “consumers” of the arts and athletics rather than to be participants.

    I find it highly ironic that “Equity” is anything but equal as it sets limits on peoples’ participation routinely. Many of my current colleagues willingly dropped their Equity status and when asked why, they responded, “Because I wanted to act and direct and I can’t do that on Equity. I can as an amateur.” (So people have already been forced out of the profession for years.)

    Yes— there are many great reasons why brilliant men and woman should be paid a comfortable wage for blessing us (and I say that word deliberately) with their talent. You will get no argument from me there.

    But I can’t help but think that all this jockeying for money and focus on commodity is pushing the arts farther away from people and making it more foreign to their daily lives. Was it more meaningful — not to say more equal — when everyone participated as a way of exercising their faith and celebrating their lives and discussing their issues and everyone was allowed to join?

    Mind… I’ve never turned down a paycheck, so there’s that to consider too. Sigh.

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