I recently came across an article by critic Chris Jones of the Chicago Tribune entitled: “The real engine behind the arts? Teacher paychecks.” Needless to say, as a current student at an Acting conservatory (with a whopping $46,000 tuition bill), I was intrigued.
Jones goes on to explain how “the money provided to the arts and artists by universities, and by the tuition paid by their students, far exceeds any and all state and federal funding for the arts,” and that, “rather than going after elected officials who have so much less to give and much less interest in doing so,” the goal should be to hire more artists as teachers, thereby gaining “a professional artist on the university’s dime.”
My “favorite” section of the article is the following: “This can go wrong. Some students sign up for classes or programs with celebrity artists only to discover they are never in the classroom and are interested only in a paycheck while they work outside. Some artists are lousy teachers. Some teachers are lousy artists. But almost always it turns out to be a win-win.”
In theory, this might seem like a totally viable, perhaps even an ideal solution. In reality, however, I think it is a whole bunch of baloney.
Although I appreciate Jones’s effort to confront the difficulties and inconsistencies within his argument, I have to say, his absurd blanket statement: “almost always it turns out to be a win-win,” is truly comical. I would love the see the evidence for that one.
Anyone who has ever worked with a truly exceptional teacher understands what an incredible gift that time is. The problem with Jones’s model, however, is that it isn’t built about these exceptional teachers who choose to teach because they love to do so. It’s built around wrangling professional artists into teaching because it’s the only viable way for them to survive! Inevitably, you will have the artists (celebrity, or not) who are there to make money, not to teach. You will also have the artists who, although well intentioned, simply are not skilled teachers. And who suffers in the end? The students: the next vital generation of theatre artists. Jones’s proposal is an idealized Band-Aid. Not a true solution for a growing problem.
In very exciting UK news, however, England’s Living Wage Foundation has just awarded an accreditation to Theatre Delicatessen, England’s first theatre company to be officially accredited as a living wage employer. The theatre will be paying all permanent staff £8.80 per hour ($14.29), and all temporary staff £7.65 per hour ($12.42).
Jessica Brewster, the theatre company’s founder, expressed the following: “Ethically we believe that artists are entitled to a decent standard of living. Just because someone chooses to follow a creative career path doesn’t mean they should sign up to a lifetime of low pay.”
And there you have it, America. It is truly as simple as that. Band-Aids are not the answer. Backing off of the government because they have “less to give and much less interest” is ludicrous beyond explanation. Ethically, a hard day’s work, whether creative or not, should be rewarded with a fair day’s pay. So let’s step up to the plate, America. Your artists need you. And they’ve earned it!