OPEN DOORS: The Real Cost of Artist-Led Spaces

OPEN DOORS: The Real Cost of Artist-Led Spaces is a report of data taken from a 2021 public survey conducted by East Street Arts and The Uncultured

OPEN DOORS: The Real Cost of Artist-Led Spaces is a report collating data taken from a survey exploring barriers to sustainability in artist-led spaces, which was conducted in 2021 by East Street Arts and The Uncultured. 

The survey was aimed at artist studio holders which included those who might run or have a staff position within a studio provider, to understand the labour that they were undertaking as part of their studio agreement, or to informally ensure the studio can continue to run. 

Initially, East Street Arts asked The Uncultured to work with them to create a report on the working conditions of the artist-led sector, and they began with the statistics collected by East Street Arts when they received applications from groups to be part of Guild. Applicants were asked to identify barriers to their sustainability as an artist-led space. The most frequently recurring answers included ‘staff burnout’, ‘time poor’, ‘need to generate/diversify income” and ‘cannot pay staff’. Long-form answers provided anecdotes of members having to work full-time outside the sector to subsidise the services they provide. There were numerous mentions of extreme fatigue and burnout through extensive voluntary working, and an inability to consider their practice as anything more sustainable than a time-limited ‘passion project’ because there was no strategic planning possible without some form of financial security.

This information, as well as varied anecdotal data which cited unpaid labour as a key issue, led The Uncultured to pursue a survey which had a number of questions which were focused around the types of labour people undertake at their artist studios and whether this is remunerated or not. 

The data was analysed by independent data consultants, Trust Impact who also summarised the following key findings: 

  • At least 50% of artists are carrying out unpaid work for their artist studios. This is likely an underestimate.
  • Huge concerns were raised by participants throughout the survey relating to the amount, type, and impact of unpaid work.
  • Many respondents believed that without unpaid work artist studios would not be able to function. This point was made a multitude of times throughout the questionnaire, with maintenance cited as one of the key areas in which artists were required to undertake unpaid labour.
  • 44% of responses suggested that their artist studio would not exist without unpaid work.
  • A number of respondents noted concern that due to the level of unpaid work required to keep artist studios affordable, without this, the industry could easily become an area where only those that could afford to undertake unpaid work would survive.
  • Few respondents were able to suggest remedies to unpaid work. Of the small number that did provide suggestions, these were largely about the need for greater financial investment from both the public and private sectors.

The report was released at East Street Arts’ Hive conference and can be downloaded as a PDF or listened to via the below audio files. 

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