from dan koop

dan kDan Koop is a Melbourne based independent artist. He is currently an Associate Producer for the 2015 Melbourne Fringe Festival.

I’ve decided to write a post for this series, hoping that there will be some strength in numbers. I read out some similar notes out as a way to begin a discussion about working conditions in this “industry” at the 2015 Australian Theatre Forum and I was comforted that I could see people in front of me as I read aloud the story of my 2014. But as I’m putting it all in black and white here I’m hoping that I’m able to maintain the same tone and intention I was able to monitor there – I don’t want this to come across as a whinge!

In many ways I feel fortunate and pleased about my 2014, but I also became aware of many sacrifices and limitations that were placed upon my career and personal life due to my career in this “industry”. Actually, it’s often more a case of seeing colleagues I work alongside struggle, than any cold hard realisations from my own personal experiences – I think I often find it easier to get angry and worried for others rather than risk whinging about my own woes or deeply analysing my own choices and predicaments. So, in the spirit of openness and with the hope that my story might also be useful for others to reflect upon, here goes…

I’m a 32-year-old male who works as an Artist and Producer, mostly for live works that happen in unusual and public spaces. I’ve often worked for or with festivals or mutli-artform venues and over the years I’ve lived in Melbourne, London, Brisbane and Sydney. Here’s an unemotional look at the practical, financial and ethical memories of what I did, and what I asked others to do, in order to have a career in the arts in Australia in 2014.

January – I get flown to Perth off the back of a residency I did in Tasmania in 2013. I get my flights and accommodation covered, but I don’t get a fee to work up a revised commission pitch. Nothing ever comes of it. I run a fundraising event for a project that’s going to Brisbane. Throughout the month (and for most of the year to come) I work three casual jobs in any given week.

February – My collaborators and I spend two weeks remounting and presenting our Greenroom Award winning work at APAM, which is the third time we’ve shown the work. Arts Vic have given us a touring fee which we’re incredibly grateful for, but we have a touring party of 6 so it doesn’t pay us award rates, cover our accommodation, per diems or production budget. The pressure is on to do the most professional job we’ve ever done, with the lowest budget we’ve accepted to present this work – just as in other seasons we scramble to pay ourselves a $500 per week fee, which is at least half of what we think we’re worth. But we think this could opportunity could be “great exposure” so we suck it up.

March – I forgo APAM follow-ups with interested producers and programmers we met (which apart from actually booking a gig, IS the payoff of the “exposure” we sought) as I simply don’t have the time because am the Program Producer for 7 commissions by Theatre Works that are premiering in 7 different spaces around St Kilda as part of the Festival of Live Art. In this role I strongly encourage one project to travel to Melbourne early to continue developing their work – I cannot give then extra budget despite them booking new flights and accommodation. I still believe it was a good call to encourage further development of that work.

April – I continue to work my three casual jobs – a furniture store, a pop up cinema and a casual job at Telstra. I’m in no way the right kind of person for the Telstra corporate structure and often reach the end of the day and am bewildered about how much admin work I have neglected.

May – I do a small job with Next Wave hosting their tour packages and they pay me well, including superannuation. I plan and facilitate the Victorian Touring Forum – after the event they tell me I did a great job and I should’ve charged them double. Rather than being annoyed by this, I’m pleased they let me prove myself in this kind of event and are honest with me – it’s great to get a market evaluation for my work.

June – Its 10 years since I started working in the industry so I take my long service leave, without pay (and not much superannuation saved and a HECS debt from two degrees to show for my 10 years service!). I travel to USA, Argentina and Brazil without any intention to participate in any art – it’s the first time since I took a childhood family holiday that I have travelled for a reason other than to work in the arts.

July – As I continue to holiday I receive some commission money for a project I’m developing, again with superannuation! On the one hand I’m really frustrated that my first ever holiday has been interrupted and on the other I’m super thankful that it is a very welcome cash contribution for my trip. That I largely set my own creative development hours and my considerate boss at the shop allows me to take time away from Melbourne.

August – I return to Melbourne and work my casual jobs and continue my commission which is for a premiere in November. While I was away my girlfriend traveled to USA to do two months of development and presentation.

September – I do a weeks work with two collaborators on my commission and another weeks work on different artists’ project – I later discover she pays me more than she pays herself in order to balance her budget. I work as a judge on Melbourne Fringe and receive some free tickets, seems like a fair deal.

October – I get two free tickets to the Melbourne Festival, that’s all I can afford to see. My girlfriend has returned home and continues to work insane hours in order to develop and present her work in the Festival – I see her for an hour a day, maximum. This will develop into a major irritant within our relationship.

November – I participate in a week long professional development event for which I don’t receive a fee. However, I do get paid a small fee to help facilitate a forum event that’s part of it. I present a version of the commission I’ve been working on since July. I was supposed to also present it simultaneously in the UK, but the dates change – my fee does not change despite having more than an extra week of work to do for the added presentation in 2015.

December – No more commissions, no more facilitation gigs and my casual work has dried up so I apply for the dole the week before Christmas.

Some Facts –

  • The average Australian full-time wage is about $75,000.
  • The Australian minimum wage is just over $33,000.
  • In the 2014 calendar year I made $35,000 gross from all my jobs and finish with zero savings. (In fact a debt as I did take almost 2 months off work, for the first time in 10 years)
  • From this $35,000 gross you can immediately deduct the following:
    • $10,00 rent
    • Food
    • Public transport
    • Bills
    • Clothes
    • Tax (if I get around to lodging my tax return, oh and the poor people’s tax on most of my purchases)
    • Tickets (last on my list)
  • By any measure I’m fortunate to be well educated, holding a Bachelor of Performing Arts a Masters of Public Art. I’ve got a HECS debt from both these degrees, I guess I’ll pay it off sometime when I start earning the big bucks…
  • Just as in the last five years, my girlfriend and I have spent at least 3-6 months of 2014 touring and apart from each other. It can make it tricky to maintain a lease when one of the rent and bill payers is out of town for these extended periods. Sometimes we sublet a room to other visiting artists and strangers – we’re lucky to have a bit of spare space at our rental that allows us to do this.

Some final thoughts –

Actually, that seems like an okay year, but it’s not one that will get me beyond a hand to mouth existence. It worries me that there are too many moments when I let myself down (working for free or for way less than I’m worth) and let the artists I work with down (asking them to work for free or produce more for less). That really bugs me – how does this “industry” make economical and social progress if we are the ones who put pressure upon each other to squeeze more for less? Shouldn’t we be working together to put the brakes on that kind of request? When can we just start to say NO? When can we stop being so grateful for the shitty offers we receive?

I know too many people working in this industry who are STRESSED OUT! I’ve been there before and nearly quit it all in anger, disgust, frustration and for my own safety. Fortunately, my next gig was a super supportive and positive one and I’m still here. But, I’m genuinely worried that some of the talented people I know will not only quit the industry, but will have some seriously unhealthy physical and mental health if they keep up their workloads and carrying such workplace pressure. Again, I want this community to band together to agree that this is not good enough and collectively agree that we won’t accept this anymore – it’s not worth it if it slowly kills us.

Our work has put a strain on the relationship with my partner of 6 years. Even though we moved in together we spent lots of time apart and didn’t save a penny – we seem destined to rent forever. As we’re both artists, it’s really hard to envision a way to raise a child without leaning massively on our parents, which would feel like we were still the children and not the hard working, dedicated, capable adults that we are. Furthermore, I’m just pissed that despite the fact my partner has worked consistently for many years, she doesn’t really have any access to maternity leave as she’s mostly been a project artist for all that time. I just feel that people with “real jobs” don’t have to put up with this bullshit.

So maybe I behave like I’m entitled to a standard of living that I’m not? Maybe I shouldn’t have taken a holiday? Maybe I should be okay with living an hour out of the city? Maybe I should work harder? Maybe I should expect to take a hit on my personal social, emotional and financial life in order to enjoy what I do?

Or maybe not?

Dan Koop

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37 thoughts on “from dan koop

  1. Being CreativelyTalented & BusinessMinded is not a trend. If you are the previously mentioned, congratulations! Your’e a 21st Century Entrepreneur with the Ability2Create income & jobs. “It is being creative in how you pursue your goals and in how you fulfill self-expressing passions in life, that leads to contentment and satisfaction” -@Ab2Create.

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  2. Being CreativelTalented & BusinessMinded is not a trend. If you are the previously mentioned, congratulations! Your’e a 21st Century Entrepreneur with the Ability2Create income & jobs. “It is being creative in how you pursue your goals and in how you fulfill self-expressing passions in life, that leads to contentment and satisfaction” -@Ab2Create.

    Like

  3. Hi, Hi, Hi! I don’t want to do boring work for crap pay any more! I want to be the creative interactive creature I was created to be! Please connect with me, contact me, lets create something beautiful together!

    Hi! I am just waking up in this life! I want to connect with you! I want to learn about you! I want to create cool and exciting things with you! I want tons of money! I want to travel! I want lots of toys! I want to be a good and nice person! I want to be a good Buddhist and stop wanting to stop wanting things! I want to help the Earth be pure again! I want to live in excitement every single moment! I want the BOOM BOOM CLASH LIFE. I want to be a model! I want to be an actor! I want to have a million views on my wordpress site! I want to meet superheros! I want to ride a zipline from the top of Mt. Everest! Sooooo! Come say hi! Check out my site! YAAAAY:):):)

    Liked by 1 person

  4. You work so hard on so many jobs – it sounds so tough. I take my hat off to you. I think most people think of art as something free and disposable. There’s so much content available for free now in the digital world, it doesn’t have a monetary value in many people’s minds. I took couple of months off work to devote time to my music but now I need to get back on the treadmill and go back to having art as my hobby.

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  5. Great article…. i have been a full time practicing artist for twenty years…. and I have post grad qualifications…. but am besties with my friends at Centrelink!

    The problem, of course, is the ‘system’ – artists and arts bodies rely largely on ‘funding’ and when govts undergo a downturn the arts funding is one of the first to go (not that Australia underwent a downturn, this was a fabrication – but that’s a whole different argument!)

    But, as you say, artists need to say NO – will this happen… NO, but imagine if artists did go out on strike – the whole of society would come to a standstill!

    Liked by 2 people

  6. First your personal lifestyle must enable you to be healthy mentally and physically long-term. No matter what job you have.

    My partner’s daughter’s boyfriend is an artist (paintings) and has his master’s degree in fine arts from Chicago. He also supplements his art work sales and commissions, with small jobs for a design and home staging firm. His life has been like this for the last 25 yrs.

    Liked by 2 people

  7. Thank you for sharing. Your post makes me sad because you remind me of a very good friend I once had who disappeared from my life when she decided that she must, for once, give all of her energy to her artistic work. From then onwards she was basically gone. Five years down the road she is close to being broken in body and spirit, I think (I still follow her on FB). I think she responded to the myth of what a ‘true artist’ should do – put in as much as you can including your health and relationships because that’s the only way. And it is the only way because if you’re not trying to live on your art then nobody in the artworld will take you serious. Then you’re just a hobby artist. That’s so frustrating! The other point I often think about is that suffering, in the artworld, has a value as such. It sometimes seems as if really good artists, successful artists, have to have suffered at some point in their lives just as you do. So when artists do suffer, they at first don’t really think much of it because everyone around them is in exactly the same unhealthy boat. It’s all quite self-defeating, isn’t it.

    Anyway, fingers crossed things will be less stressful for you and your girlfriend! And: Do take higher fees in future; you’re obviously worth it. Do take holidays every now and then and thus stay sane 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

  8. There comes a time you must sacrifice to achieve your goals if you have a plan go for it but there also a time frame in which those goals are not achieve you will have to restructure your plan. If it’s hurting your family or love ones see if you can do it part time or as a hobby until you can return to it full time -Best of Luck

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  9. Given the economics of art, I sometimes wonder why anyone tries to be any sort of artist. I guess the answer is it’s not a career, it’s an obsession, and artists almost always need to sacrifice things like a steady income and savings in order to make their stuff happen. Plus, of course, everyone wants their work for free or ‘for exposure’. Keep it up, and good luck for 2015.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. But it shouldn’t be an obsession – that is the point! Artists are as qualified in their ‘job’ as anybody else, and make meaningful contributions to society and as such should be remunerated appropriately!
      The ‘system’ is set up wrongly where artists and art bodies have to rely on funding, and then when the economy undergoes stressors that funding is the first thing that dries up, yet research shows it is the arts that gets people through these tough times (even though Australia didn’t have tough times, it was Liberal hoax – but thats a whole different discussion!)
      Anyway, the point of the article is, like I said, that creatives should stand up & say ‘no’ – if we all went on strike the world be come to stand still!

      Liked by 3 people

  10. Interesting blog. I look forward to seeing others views. “They always say time changes things, but you actually have to change them yourself” – Warhol. Perhaps your art promoting positive change?

    Liked by 2 people

  11. Love this! It helps open peoples’ eyes to the truths faced by those trying to make it in any creative “industry”. I, myself, have always wanted to live by my pen. With regular work and life always calling, I’ve neglected to focus on this, but no more. This past year I have dedicated enormous time to writing and am trying to snag my first publication. In doing so, I just launched my fictional blog penned by my main character. If you’re interested, I’d love to hear your thoughts. I’m at CLOVERAmerica.net. Thanks in advance, and I truly, truly wish you all the best in the arts. People don’t always realize how much work and sacrifice goes into it. Thanks for sharing and hopefully it opens a few eyes!

    Liked by 3 people

  12. Oh yeah good read by the way, sorry about the art scene and income. Call centres and bars are full of people way more talented than those execs on the megabucks but you do what you love or you pay the bills somehow the two dont always go together….

    Liked by 1 person

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