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Nothing romantic about living in squalor

  • 15 March 2013

When I add up my freelance income relative to the hours of labour spent, it amounts to a pitiable rate, especially compared with what I receive for any unskilled casual work I do. After a mind-numbing day at a paid job, I sense the cosmic injustice that the hardest work I do has so little monetary value.

Yet when something I have written — some excrement of months of research and creative labour — gets published and well-received, I feel vindicated. On days like that, I can look at my bank balance without weeping. Money buys practical things like socks, but socks are not the reason that people create.

Simon Crean's new Creative Partnerships initiative will pump $75.3 million over four years into the arts. It has awarded great funding packages to certain large arts organisations such as the Malthouse Theatre and Circus Oz, and proposes funding models to make it easier for philanthropists to reach the arts sector.

It has been well-received, even if it is a more-of-the-same, funding-career-administrators-and-educators-and-leaving-artistes-to-their-hellish-squalor kind of model.

Creative writers have always encountered poverty as a workplace hazard. As Wallace Stegner wrote in his 1959 essay 'To a Young Writer' , 'you will always be pinched for money ... it is not a new problem'. Now that most newspapers have failed to find workable financial models, lifestyle writers and journalists are joining these same lowly financial ranks.

Professional writers are being asked to work for free, even for profitable private enterprises like The Atlantic, who no doubt paid Stegner well for that essay. Last week, an email exchange exposed by journalist Nate Thayer circulated in which The Atlantic had commissioned a piece to be repurposed by Thayer, and then implied that the privilege of the wide circulation they could offer should be payment enough for the established journalist's work.

Artists have been cultured to believe that their profession is both a choice and a privilege simply because the value of their labour exists outside of the free market.

I question the extent to which people really choose their talents, interests and commitments. I was raised by an artist whose whole family are artists, and they are not daft enough to have simply chosen to do what they do and accept the harsh financial realities. To suggest art is a 'privileged choice'