We often talk about money, but we don’t really talk about money. Or rather, many of us really want to talk about money, but we don’t talk about money with pounds and pennies examples. I mean, not really. We are embarrassed about how much we earn or how little we earn. We are really scared about what that conversation might do to our image, perception, assumptions others make of us and we make of others.
When I came to the UK in August 1999, at the age of 16 and a half, I had fifty pounds in my pocket. My dad gave it to me.
My first job in the UK was as a waitress, then I worked in two shops. I also cleaned and babysat children who at the age of six and seven would mock my accent. I wonder where they learned that? Just a year before that I had my first solo exhibition and all drawings were sold and with the money, I financed the rest of my high school drawing expenses.
It’s Autumn 2021 and I am currently cash flowing a show I am designing because the fancy trust which holds the cash the company won two years ago, about to open at the swankiest of venues in London, hasn’t actually given them the money and so the artists only get the money when we send them receipts. You must be joking! I am not!
I send home money. Every month. That money often goes on gas, electricity and water. Sometimes if I’ve done well that month, I send some more for food. Let me be plain- I come from the richest family- their richness in the culture with which I have been brought up and the work ethic they have installed is something and everything I never wish was any different.
There was that time when I had to go to Equity for help to extract five hundred pounds from a director who refused to pay me with the words “it’s such a good exposure” It was exposure into some of the workings of the industry.
There was that other time, when a show I designed in a pub theatre nearly transferred to the west end. I wonder how my work and my life in relation to money would have changed.
In June 2020, I submitted a drawing to an open call for Scottish Mental Health Arts Festival and Yale University publication. In October 2020 they emailed to say the drawing was chosen. From December 2020 to the end of March 2021, I chased them every month for a small fee of fifty pounds. In early April 2021 the director of Scottish Mental Health Arts Festival emailed me to say that “as you can imagine, we have been very busy” and sorry about the delay. You must be joking. I am not.
I hate waste, of all kinds of waste. And I hate people who are careless with resources. I especially hate food waste.
I wonder who I need to be to attract the attitude of being paid well and on time for my work.
I wonder who I need to be for theatre companies to honour the royalties clauses I have so often tried so hard to write into my contracts.
I really like being able to pay for a round of drinks.
I often feel guilty that I don’t have enough or that I have too much.
In March 2020 I decided to only buy clothing I really needed. Thus far, I have had to buy some knickers, socks, two pairs of jeans and a shirt. This feels really good, especially in relation to reducing my carbon footprint.
Who owns the right to decide how much I should get paid?
Who owns the land beneath your feet? Or the building you are currently sitting in?
Are you a homeowner?
Why do you think that Universal Basic Income is so scary for our leaders?
How much is your local bus ride?
What is it about our fascination with stuff being free? No stuff anywhere is free. Someone, somewhere, somehow paid for it.
Do you play the lottery in the hope of winning over a million, calling it a day, leaving the rules of this elitist industry and heading to a small island on the west coast of Scotland for a crofting life. I do.
There is this friend of mine who I love, and who is one of the best producers in the UK who runs an Arts Council National Portfolio Organisation and who often complains that don’t have enough money and how much more money she needs to raise for them to make the show.
Why do I have to often ask what my fee is? Why can’t it be in the first email?
How much do you think I earned last year? Have a guess, dm me a number, if you are right, you get a drawing. You must be joking! No, I am not.
Yesterday, actually just last night, I texted a director of an arts organisation to ask how much money they put in that show. He responded with a coin emoji. I then felt embarrassed for asking and he said – no problem at all.
Do you think this blog is worth anything – a pound, two, fiver, a tenner, twenty, fifty, a hundred? If you think it’s worth something, what would you do?
Do you pay your way or do you expect others to pay for you?
How often do you say – Let me get that!
I am reminded of the time a friend said that people meet you where you are now, not where you have come from or where we have been.
I remember Katy Baird’s show where she gets the audience to keep their hand up if they earn 15k, 25k, 30k, 50k. I remember looking around being astounded.
In Bulgaria, the country of my place of birth, the average monthly salary is 650 euros a month. Many older people especially those who live in rural places don’t earn that, many survive purely on what the earth gives them and what their children and grandchildren sent home.
People often look at my drawings and say they love them and then say things ”I just don’t have £60 for art” but you have £300 for a fancy jacket?
Where do we play value and are we prepared to pay for it?
Do you think people wear what they earn?
Do you think it’s crude to talk about money?
Do you think that it’s bad taste to talk about money?
It’s a late Sunday afternoon and I am on my way to London from the north. I am on a train. I love trains but I am not in love with this one – the carriage is packed and I am one of three people wearing masks. My train ticket is £59.80 and it has proved a valuable space for me to write this.
The other day I got an email from a large National Portfolio Organisation telling me that this year they are celebrating giving five £500 bursaries for local artists. You must be joking! No, I am not.
When will it be enough?
The other month I watched a performance with a budget of over £200k I recon. For one single, singular, one off, just the once show. The show, about labour, felt like a parade of wealth.
Apparently I don’t play the system.
Last year I sold over twenty drawings on a pay what you offer basis. If I thought your offer was ok and I liked you, you got a drawing, an original. One of my friends offered me thirty pounds for a drawing. I accepted it because I was too scared to say no. I was too scared to say that that didn’t feel right. I learned a lot from that.
I am often too scared to say no.
When I go home I pay for mostly everything – from groceries to tram fares.
How do I value my labour?
How do I decide that this drawing is a hundred pounds and that design is two grand? How do you?
How much energy and time is wasted in chasing payments? How and when will it get easier to say – My day rate is …