…..Though Lack of Transparency Hinders A Professional From Knowing Their Value

Perhaps providentially after my post last week about how a professional know their value, I saw a post on HowlRound by Elsa Hiltner which address some of the factors underlying the stereotype of artists being bad with money. Specifically, she feels the lack of transparency about pay/fees contributes to this situation and uses the situation faced by designers as part of her example. She lauds the efforts of a number of job sites that now require pay transparency in listings and points to a crowdsourced spreadsheet she set up where designers record how much they were paid for projects.

Designers often don’t learn how their fees and contract terms might differ from the other artists on board because they aren’t always able to talk with the rest of the production or design team before signing—or don’t even know who else is on the team. Occasionally, contracts forbid talking about pay rates with others, which is illegal.


Unsurprisingly, artists are held responsible for this state of affairs. Society, and artist themselves, are continuously sold the stereotype that artists are “bad” at money, uncomfortable with talking about money, or not effective at negotiation. This is not rooted in artists’ everyday experiences. Once hired, many are responsible for managing show budgets and most negotiate fees and contract terms, often dozens of times a year.

The idea that artists are “bad” at talking about money or are too concerned with competition or the veneer of monetary success to discuss their income or contracts with each other is a tool used by hiring companies to maintain a power dynamic that favors them.

She addresses the dynamics where artists accept validation as a reward for their work since the pay is so low, but notes that equitable across the organization, even if it is low, is actual validation. It is a sign that the experience you bring to the table is valued on par with those of similar skill and experience in a different department.

She has a whole list of suggestions about how we can do better so take a look at the post.

About Joe Patti

I have been writing Butts in the Seats (BitS) on topics of arts and cultural administration since 2004 (yikes!). Given the ever evolving concerns facing the sector, I have yet to exhaust the available subject matter. In addition to BitS, I am a founding contributor to the ArtsHacker (artshacker.com) website where I focus on topics related to boards, law, governance, policy and practice.

I am also an evangelist for the effort to Build Public Will For Arts and Culture being helmed by Arts Midwest and the Metropolitan Group. (http://www.creatingconnection.org/about/)

I am currently the Director of the Grand Opera House in Macon, GA.

Among the things I am most proud are having produced an opera in the Hawaiian language and a dance drama about Hawaii's snow goddess Poli'ahu while working as a Theater Manager in Hawaii. Though there are many more highlights than there is space here to list.


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