by Matthew Cumbie
How much is my career worth? How much is my art work worth? When is it ok for me to ask for expect compensation for my services?
These are questions that I struggle with almost daily. And I’m willing to wager my small salary that many of you struggle with these same, or similar, questions at various points in your artistic career. Why is that? What is the cause for this dilemma? And when did it become O.K. to divert our attention from addressing these questions by saying, “Oh, you do it because you love it”?
Before I go any further, I want to say that I feel very, very fortunate for my current situation and for those experiences and situations that have led me to where I am. I realize that few opportunities to do what I do exist, and to get paid to do those things is sometimes unreal. And I love what I do. But I don’t ever recall this to be a reason that we not pay someone for their work. Returning to our questions above, the reasons could by many: too little funding, it’s a great experience, I don’t have a budget, and many others that we could compile over a few glasses of wine I’m sure. And while these all might be true and very valid, I would like to throw one (or two, depending on how you look at it) more in the mix that I find often unacknowledged: you and me.
That’s right. We are sometimes the cause of our own problems, especially in this situation. I say this because we, as performers and makers and teachers, perpetuate this problem of not paying artists when we participate in this cycle. We do it because we have no other option. We do it because we want to be involved in this love affair at whatever the cost. We do it because we know that if we don’t, someone else will…and for free. We do it because we want that, that right there, on our CV. You know, so when we decide that we’re marketable or valuable we’ll have more artistic weight to throw around. And that’s the magic button- we decide.
This is where the water gets murky, though.