Wage gaps have been a hot conversation topic well before the entrance of the women to the workforce in the mid-20th century. By 1943, women made up 65 percent of the industry’s total workforce (compared to just 1 percent in the pre-war years). Since then, wages still have not caught up for everyone working today to ensure an evenly paid workforce.
NOT JUST A CORPORATE THING
Unfortunately, this inequality seems to have leaked into all areas of the American workforce - and the arts are definitely not immune.
A recent study reported by NPR’s social science correspondent Shankar Vedantam found that the difference in wage gaps between men and women in the arts was more than $13,000.
But what does this mean for a field full of individuals who are often outspoken in the interest of gender equality?
“Unconsciously, we may be doing something differently than we are consciously,” explained Vendantam.
Maybe there needs to be a reevaluation of how we address this gap. With recent discussions of having corporations report salaries, or explorations of setting minimum wages in art organizations, could be a great start.
Clearly, transparently, and communicatively approach the gap to close it.
Typically being considered as self-employed individuals, artists (both visual and performing) can fall outside the bounds of regulated wages. Following expensive training and education, aspiring artists are expected to scrape by with little means of supporting themselves. The arts require complete dedication to “make it”, or prove oneself to professionals - an act of self-destruction in the name of a passion with high hopes of succeeding. This could dissuade talented individuals - and we absolutely do not want that.
In this age of digital attentiveness and quick communication, platforms should be used as an open forum, and at the very least, to keep the conversation going.
A few years ago, fringe actors based in London proposed they receive a minimum wage, regardless of a break-even show. The producer of the show thought it was a worthwhile exploration of theatre, however, and did not report any notable income from the performance - resulting in no pay for hard-worked hours in prep work, rehearsals, and performance.
These actors pursued an employment tribunal case which appealed directly for minimum wage - but lost.
In the United States, there are minimum wages in place. But let’s be honest, the minimum wage is not meant to be lived off of forever and we can’t expect artists to do the same. From a nonprofit arts organization’s view, a regulated minimum wage may be difficult to process, let alone comply with. Now add in that wage gap and you can see a highly stratified view of the gender wage gap in the arts - it’s not a pretty picture.
Much like the producer of the London show mentioned above, the issue of wage gaps and the ability to pay artists, in general, comes down to a fundamental funding issue.
Running a nonprofit does not mean that you can run it without a profit.
For performing arts specifically, a viable organization cannot and will not survive on ticket sales alone. In a for-profit entity, diverse revenue streams equal stable income and a well-rounded portfolio. This same strategy is employed by very successful nonprofit organizations who rely on a diverse revenue stream as well.
Two buckets. Bucket One collects rainwater and Bucket Two you fill with a hose. Both water your beloved flower garden.
Say Bucket One starts to run empty because this is your primary water resource for your garden. You look in the bucket and see that there is little left - because it hasn’t rained in a while.
No worries! You’ve got Bucket Two, that you fill from the hose, and you can still water your garden.
Save the cheesy metaphor and think about it in terms of earned and unearned income. Too often performing arts organizations rely heavily on ticket sales and not enough on fundraising revenue.
Ticket sales or other forms of service revenue are time constrained, leaving no room to make more money once the event has passed. Funds that are raised, however, are typically not time-restricted, and can fall in that bucket when needed. A successful performing arts organization has both so that when it hasn’t rained in a while, they can still water their flowers.
A two-way street
In addition to having diverse revenue streams, it is also important for arts policymakers and advocates to continue the conversation of (at the very least) minimum wages and (at the very most) closing the gap.
Remember our dear friends the fringe actors? In Edinburgh, the “City Council is to produce a report on how to promote fair working conditions at the fringe.” Advocates want to ensure proper contracting to result in proper pay.
Wage requirements coupled with well-organized fundraising initiatives will ensure our artists do not stay “starving.”
Be the change
Advocacy starts with an idea, and funding starts with a donation. Find your forte and give however you can.
Crowdfunding is a term that refers to any effort to raise money with donations from a large number of people. Crowdsourcing is the umbrella term for anyone not (as of yet) affiliated with an organization to become a part of one.
A few years ago, a small bookstore based in California was facing foreclosure due to a minimum wage increase (sound familiar?). Thus “Crowdsourcing A Beloved Bookstore’s Minimum Wage Raise” was the answer to their growing problem.
Here are a few ideas to get you started:
The anticipated aggregate expense of LadyBOS’s next production ...that's what she said is $20,000+.
From Monday, February 18 at 9am through Wednesday, March 27 at 11:30pm, Lady BOS Productions is campaigning to raise $8,000 to assist with the costs of this project.
Please consider supporting this important endeavor!
Written by: victoria nunweiler
Published March 19, 2019
This blog contains contributions from several women with who we are grateful to work. Head over to our TEAM page to learn more about who we are; scan our archives to learn more about what we think.
Top Cover Photo: "shell" by I.J. Chan, Image by Haley Abram Photography