from penelope bartlau

Penelope is the Artistic Director of Barking Spider Theatre.
penelope pic

What fees do you charge?

I had a lot of trouble working out how to charge – so it’s come down to a) the industry standard rates for artists (I charge out $250/day/artist or $1100/week – usually) – and this includes super and then their tax is taken out too.

Someone sagely advised me to put 5-10% of every budget on top of the final figure, as an admin cost – which I do where I can. Our insurance is about $1300/year – and rising…and we don’t yet have board insurance – which I committed to purchasing, but we just don’t have the dosh…

The big problem with some budgets is “cutting from the top down”. How does this play out? – So someone says – ok, here’s $10,000 to do this thing. Often I have to push to have it GST added on top of the fee (especially if it’s council), and if I can’t get that, I have to deduct the GST the arse-end way around, which ends up with the company having less money to do the proposed work (and more time doing ridiculous calculations).

Usually I work out what we can do – how many artists I can employ etc., with whatever the budget is, and then pitch the idea accordingly, or, I offer tiered budgets: $A will get you this much, $B – this much and $C this much…

I never depend on secondary funding sources – although get them sometimes (meaning more than one successful grant application on a project). I work out the project on the barest of bones, and then if more comes, I add.

But – how do I get paid? I fatten budgets, and operate like a tight arse – (never with artists wages though). I find sponsors, spaces – free stuff, recycled stuff – I scavenge. I negotiate like a motherfucker when I know people/institutions don’t “get it” that we are not waged. I work like crazy, on project-to-project fees – and I don’t get paid for all the work on all the projects that don’t fly. I look at the work we do as independent artists/producers, and whatever we each currently earn – triple it, and that’s what you’d be earning in a properly paid industry.

What income as an artist do you aim for/receive annually?

This utterly varies. This last year I had my best year ever – really. From my work as an artistic director with Barking Spider I earned $38,000 – which is so incredible and I’m so proud…

This year coming though – looking a bit thin on the ground at this stage.

What tips do you have for sustainable practice (ie how to sustain your mental & Financial health)

To keep myself steady and stable, I exercise a lot, and then whenever I’m feeling overwhelmed (which is often) or close to some kind of nervous breakdown (which is more often than I’d like to admit), I exercise some more, have a cup of tea, and remember that I chose all of this, that I’m lucky, and that I have the freedom to walk my dogs every day at a time that I choose, and that I am here when my kids come home from school.

Financially, I feel like I’m always improvising – swinging wildly from one branch to the next and not knowing if a branch will snap and I might plummet – But, I am learning to trust that work and money come. The better I get at my work, the more the phone rings, and the more I trust that I will always have work.

What are your bug bears?

It’s exhausting. I feel misunderstood. It’s probably only the people reading this who will get it too – as we are in like circumstances (I’m making a big assumption here I know…).

Right now, my biggest issue is sustainability, and my bugbear around that is this: if we are funded so we remain stable, we become a) answerable to the funder and b) risk adverse.

Here’s what I wrote about this for Anne Marie Peard for Sometime Melbourne on the subject:

“I met a guy who knows a thing or two about theatre in New York, and my ears are resonating with his philosophy on funding. It’s no real news to hear it, but he says “ongoing funding makes artists risk adverse” – heard it here before. But this is resonating especially now in light of the Australia Council 6-year organizational funding that is in the offing for 2015. If it’s true – and I think it is – that everything is based on economics, then this 6-year strategy is born of deeply conservative economic drivers. Bring on the ecology, and let us “little guys” flourish and make more work, everywhere. The big trees are going to grow bigger and cast greater shadows across the forest floor: the floor dwellers have to become even more inventive, more subversive and louder artistically and politically – if we are to not only survive but thrive.”

I believe that this 6 year funding initiative is going to make the big arts orgs absolute stiffs – Bigger and even more inflexible.

What changes would you like to see?

I would like to see a fund like the Art Start grant, for independent artists. Imagine if we could get $10,000 to help us with our businesses.

I would hire a part time general manager & marketing person in a flash. The only reason I didn’t say professional bookkeeper straight up is because we now have one – thank God!

It’s the business of being in the business that keeps me away from the art – and I’m certain this is the shared experience.

Stats to share:

In the 2013-14 financial year, Barking Spider has kept developing relationships with existing partners: Heide Museum, Heritage Hill Museum, Albury LibraryMuseum, The Village Festival, Fitzroy High School, Regional Arts Victoria, ArtPLay, City of Darebin, City of Casey, Monash University Student Theatre, Black Hole Theatre and Slack Taxi. We have new relationships with: Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery, The State Library of Victoria, Lorne Festival, Sydney International Arts Festival, Chapel Street Arts Burst Festival, Melbourne Athenaeum Library, Victorian College of the Arts, Frankston Arts Centre, Hawthorn Arts Centre, Mildura Festival, Moomba Festival, City of Horsham and Wild@heArt.

Event Count: We have generated and presented 126 events (one event can mean a workshop, a residency or a show season).

Audience Count: Adults – 29,076 Young people – 12,640

Jobs for Artists : 197

Reach: States: Victoria, New South Wales & Tasmania – including regional tours and metropolitan/city work.

Turnover: Just over $100,000


One thought on “from penelope bartlau

  1. Hi Penelope. I’m really finding these articles fascinating. A few thoughts from me. If your board want insurance, they should pay for this themselves – ie make a tax deductible donation to your organisation to enable it to cover costs associated with operating. The cost of this should not be beyond the capability of your board as a whole, and if it is, then I think you need to look at your board make up. Secondly I don’t believe that funding prevents risk taking, in fact I believe that funding enables risk taking – without it, organisations rely too much on commercial imperatives which really are antithetical to the notion of maximising risk. I’m taking of course about the small to medium sector and not the majors which by the nature of their model are quasi commercial entities themselves. Finally the new AusCo model means that you could indeed apply for something like the Art Start to support Barking Spider. That’s all just a few thoughts from me but hope it’s helpful. Thanks again for sharing.


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