There is a common public misperception it’s just a case of making it; waiting for a band to take off, or an unpublished novel to spark a bidding war at a buzzy book fair. But this overestimates average earnings in the arts.
Despite pushes for fairer earnings, many working artists, even those gigging regularly, supplement their income with other work. And as many had predicted, the UK’s post-Brexit entry requirements seem almost designed to be unworkable for touring musicians.
No art please, we’re British? The Guardian last week reported on the story of a punk band called Trigger Cut. From Stuttgart, Germany, intending to do a string of seven gigs in the UK, the three-piece attempted to enter the country on a Permitted Paid Engagement exemption route, which in theory allows artists to enter the country without a visa. But enter the small print – artists “cannot do paid work unrelated to your main overseas job or area of expertise”. This was a problem for Trigger Cut, one of whom reportedly works as a landscape gardener by day.
Festival directors have long been calling attention to the problem – during the Edinburgh festival season it has become common to hear of poets and playwrights refused entry. Former Edinburgh International Festival director Fergus Linehan called the visa situation a "disaster” for the arts, highlighting the impediment of collaboration in particular.
The rules are at odds with the reality of how artists work today and secure an income. It’s no surprise this doesn’t seem to have been thought through in the post-Brexit rush to amend legislation. But it speaks to a wider, systemic, class-rooted problem as to how Britain treats its artists; unless they arrive fully formed and funded, it seems to have little time for their development.
Despite the value the UK’s creative industries bring to the economy and despite art’s importance to our self-expression and well-being, arts programmes are cut, funding is slashed, libraries are closed and art education is maligned. The Conservative government still view the professional pursuit of art as a hobbyist luxury, and are doing their damndest to keep things in stasis.