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How do artists make a living?

As someone who chose their first degree subject on the basis of getting a ‘proper’ job after university and now studying Fine Art, I was keen to find out how established artists are making creativity pay.

The workshop, Making creativity pay, was organised by the StoryLab Research Institute at Anglia Ruskin University (ARU); part of a series of events hosted to produce cross-disciplinary conversations through roundtable discussions, presentations and technical demonstrations in the field of creative practice research [1].

According to government reports, the creative industries in the UK are booming, valued at £101.5 billion in 2017, and the sector is growing at twice the rate of the economy [2]. Creativity is profoundly human, social and constantly evolving - which go some way to explain why in a recent survey on creativity and technology, 54% of respondents claimed they were “not worried at all that AI [artificial intelligence] would replace them” [3]. Creative jobs are future-proof jobs (87% of creative jobs are at low or no risk of automation) [4]. Yet there is still anxiety amongst my peers that supporting oneself, as an artist, after university is going to be a significant challenge.

Arts Council England research reports that just one third of the money earned by visual artists comes from producing art and almost seven in ten (68%) artists have to take on additional jobs to make ends meet [5]. The vast majority of creatives work in multiple roles and the first speaker, Dr Nanette Hoogslag is both a practising illustrator and course leader for the BA (Hons) Illustration & Animation degree at ARU. Nanette shared her experience of a ‘portfolio career’ and described the role of the illustration agent – managing the interface between the illustrator and the volatile creative industry - or “dream selling to dream sellers” as she called it.

Operating an alternative agency model, Mark Segal, of The Artists Agency explained how he’d transferred his skills and experience as a curator and gallerist to representing the artist in the public arena. Brokering the interface between stakeholders, Mark collaborates with artists on a one-to-one basis to develop their practice, identify potential partners and venues, develop funding, project manage and promote the outcomes.

Of the workers in the creative sector, 35% are self-employed, compared with 15% across the workforce as whole [6]. Freelancers make up a significant portion of self-employed workers in the creative industries and they know they need to constantly evolve and master new skills to keep up. Pauline Burt, CEO of Ffilm Cymru Wales, had practical advice to offer artists based on the development agency’s programmes. Pauline’s recommendations included: Making the most of your ideas (magnifier), breaking down barriers to entry (foot in the door), thinking of your skill set as a business, building your brand and sharing your story - success and failure.

The resulting interdisciplinary discussion; whilst acknowledging the role of rapidly emerging technology to maximise ideas and deliver creative projects, focused on the uniquely human capacities for creativity and emotional expression.

Creativity is elusive…creativity is about engaging with the world…creativity is profoundly human…creativity is profoundly social…creativity is a life journey.”[7]

Despite the academic setting for the workshop, the chair and speakers were genuinely focused on industry insight and practical advice rather than just contributing to the wider culture versus commerce debate. Thereby providing an invaluable opportunity, for those of us embarking on a career in art and the creative industries, to get to grips with the reality of what it takes to make creativity pay.

My take home messages from the workshop: Get out there and make connections, be open, network, prioritise the opportunities important to your practice’s development, invest in your practice, always have something to show (past work and future ideas) and persevere.

Reflecting further on the workshop and my involvement in the debate on a 10-year vision for the future at the Cambridge Arts Network (CAN) conference 2019, it’s clear that collaboration and partnership are both key to individual practitioners and the creative sector as a whole. It sounds like a win-win situation to me – let’s get social!

To find out more about the StoryLab Research Institute and upcoming events visit: A podcast of the workshop is available at:


[1] Anglia Ruskin University 2019. StoryLab: Creative Practice Methodologies. [Online]. Available at [Accessed 24/06/19].

[2] Department for Digital, Media, Culture and Sports 2018. Press release: Britain’s creative industries break the £100 billion barrier. [Online]. Available at: [Accessed 24/06/19].

[3] Pfeiffer Consulting 2018. Creativity and technology in the age of AI. [Online]. Available at: [Accessed 24/06/19].

[4] Creative Industries Federation 2019. Industry Statistics. [Online]. Available at: [Accessed 24/06/19].

[5] Arts Professional 2019. Only a third of artists’ income comes from their art, research finds. [Online]. Available at: [Accessed 24/06/19].

[6] Creative Industries Federation 2019. Industry Statistics. [Online]. Available at: [Accessed 24/06/19].

[7] Pfeiffer Consulting 2018. Creativity and technology in the age of AI. [Online]. Available at: [Accessed 24/06/19].

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