I left university with the absolute intention to become a composer, but only a vague meaning of what that meant. I knew I was taking on a hard task with poor financial prospects, but my understanding of this was hazy, based on parental warnings and the half-understood examples of my smattering of older friends. I hoped that as I spent more time in the arts, things would clarify.
Yet the mystery of artists’ finances only grew with experience. I am very privileged; my parents pay my rent, ease my cash-flow, and help with much more besides. Yet I regularly come across people whose existence seems completely out of reach: the musician with thousands of pounds of electronic equipment; the artist who seemed to be 50% late-night debauchery, 50% inspired art, 0% day job. My mystification, to my shame, also extended in the other direction. With all my privilege, I feel like I’m working at full capacity. How do those without such resources manage
So often, I’ve wanted to ask people how they do it, yet there is a strong culture of privacy around financial matters. Our finances can reveal so much and are often associated with shame and anxiety. Frankness about our personal economies is occluded by fears: Am I a spendthrift? Am I embarrassingly privileged? Am I humiliatingly broke? Will discussing money make me look like a braggart or a pity-monger?
Yet this silence is costly. It leaves those with fewer resources drawing unfair comparisons between themselves and those who secretly don’t pay rent. It leaves us in the dark when we make important decisions, depriving us of examples and of ideas for income streams. An arts culture that doesn’t talk about money will systematically benefit those who don’t have to think about money.
So I’ve tried to image what would help me, both as a clueless 21-year-old and as still-fairly-clueless 26-year-old. I was particularly influenced by the generous honesty of George Monbiot, who publishes his accounts annually.
Here’s the plan:
I would like to publish a series of interviews with creatives about their financial situation. I’ll try to find a real mix of people, from different backgrounds, living in different places, pursuing different careers.
Each will start with core details: sources and amounts of income, core expenses, savings, etc. The focus will be on income (it seems too invasive to ask how people spend their disposal cash), but core costs such as rent, bills, etc. will be discussed. I won’t ask for exact fees the person has accepted, to avoid compromising fee negotiations, but may publish annual, anonymised compilations of fees.
Then, we’ll have an open and honest conversation about money. I’d love to know what money means to people, how they deal with investing in their practice, how they balance financial and artistic priorities.
I want these interviews to be kind. There’s no avoiding fear when opening yourself up, but it is crucial that we avoid the online humiliation that can accompany newspaper money diaries. These interviews are meant to help those who read them, not provide cheap voyeurism. The first piece in the series will include an account of my own financial situation, which seems only fair.
If this is something that seems of interest, please let me know. I’ll need to find people willing to take part, so please spread news of this far and wide on social media and elsewhere. If any of this strikes you as tone deaf, or missing crucial aspects, please let me know in the comments.