MUSINGS It’s important to compensate the artiste adequately
The previous article of ‘Footloose’ broadly mentioned some of the ethical concerns that artists are faced with in the performing world. But ethics is not something that is required of dancers and other artists alone. Often, the individual sense of ethics of artists is strong, but the people they’re forced to deal with on their way to the stage are far less ethical.
In no other professional line of work is it remotely conceivable to expect a service to be provided without adequate compensation. Yet, in the world of performing arts, it happens all the time. Many a time, there is no compensation. And far too often, the compensation is nowhere near adequate.
The biggest problem faced by artists when dealing with organizers and sponsors of an event is the lack of payment. Far too often, artists are expected to perform free of charge. Several explanations are given to substantiate this exploitation, the most common one being that artists are being given a great platform. Another common explanation for not being able to pay an artist is that the organizers themselves were not funded well enough or at all. In my view, if an organizer of an event is unable to secure funding or sponsorship for an event, then the event should be rescheduled for a time when funding is available. If the funds were available, but limited, then it comes down to prioritizing. Is the festival about presenting fifty artists, of which none are paid or about five good artists who are well paid? For outstation performances, paying for the artists’ travel and accommodation should be the basic minimum provided to the artist.
Secondly, many performances involve other art forms – a classical dance performance involves live musicians, a contemporary dance performance may involve multimedia collaborations, a classical singer requires accompanists, and a music ensemble or band involves 4-5 members along with sound engineers and so on. If the performing artist is to bear all these costs, a performance ends up being a huge financial undertaking for the artist. Occasionally, the artist may break even but there is little left for livelihood. Several artists are forced to seek other sources of income to survive. They have day jobs, or they teach – many do this out of desperation, rather than because they like their day jobs or teaching. Aside from the questionable ethics related to finances, sometimes organizers unwittingly rob artists of basic dignity by leaving them in the lurch regarding dates. Without confirmation on dates, an artist is either forced to commit blindly or loses opportunities to perform. Last minute cancellations are also common. I admit, that given how much funding the arts receive from the government and how much patronage exists currently for classical and contemporary performing arts, it is easier to point fingers or write such an article, than to actually put proper systems in place to ensure a better ‘performance ethic’.
But my intention is not to point fingers. It is to highlight that these problems exist, and they are very real. They have been firmly put into place by years of tolerance of the attitude ‘unfortunately, this is how things are’. But this lack of ethics in the performing world hinders artistic expression and violates the process of creative work. Artists must be allowed to focus full time on their work, with a certain degree of security. And this can only happen if we begin to take ‘performance ethics’ very, very seriously.