Art Is Work: Rethinking The ‘In Kind’ Funding Model

For a lot of recent graduates, art school education has been commonly characterised by a dawning realisation that ‘artist’ is not a job. For four years students are fed a myth that somehow it is all going somewhere, that there would be something on the other side. Yet by the time graduation comes around, they are prolonging the inevitable by pursuing a masters, hanging out at the job centre or working in a minimum wage role unrelated to their degree.

Paid work in the arts is infrequent, and any payment that is offered seems such an unusual privilege that the morally right thing to do is to refuse it, since there doesn’t seem to be enough to go around. What in any other sector would be called ‘jobs’ are instead usually listed as ‘voluntary opportunities’ and remain highly competitive. At art school, this appears to just be the territory of desperate students, easily taken advantage of. However, upon graduation, they are to find that it not only keeps happening, but is legitimised and even has a name: ‘In Kind’.

‘In Kind’ is often the phrase used to describe the model of ‘pay’ for the work of artists. Arts Council England states:

Support in kind means a non-cash contribution to your project, such as materials or services that are provided free of charge or at a reduced rate. This can contribute to the success of your project and shows support for your work.

According to the arts council, professionals that are offering their services, such as artists, curators, and builders, should have their time valued as if they were being paid. Yet for most people, they are treated like free labour, and as if it is the organisation doing them a favour. 

If used at all, working ‘in kind’ should be something that professionals can offer on top of their paid work, to support smaller and less well funded organisations as a charitable contribution. However, Janie Nicoll and Ailie Rutherford’s ‘In Kind’ project at Glasgow International revealed that many professional artists worked for weeks or even months for free to prepare, put on, and staff their exhibitions throughout the festival. Through this project they demonstrated that the festival and the wider industry actually relies on this model to meet their funding goals, which is further backed up from statistics taken from the Scottish Artists Union 2016 Membership Survey:

81% of artists are self employed

50% of artists are full time practitioners

73% of artists work from home

83% of artists earn less than £10k per year from their art; and 80% believe they will earn the same or less next year

59% of artists have never received public funding

88% of artists do not get contracts consistently

61% of artists often receive less than the industry standard rates of pay for paid professional work and only 11% regularly receive the industry standard rate of pay

75% of artists seldom or never receive an Exhibition Payment Fee

53% of artists do not believe the sector is healthy and viable for their practice

Art is often thought of as a space to work outside the capitalist model and its foundation of competition, and yet with the current funding climate, it is very much rooted inside it; constantly competing for limited resources. In an ideal socialist world, ‘in kind’ might function as a system for trading skills and knowledge, but unfortunately there is no socialist utopia, and capitalism is the context that informs life: artists need very real money to pay rent and survive. 

We’re all creative. If you don’t think you are, it’s probably because you haven’t had the chance to explore your ideas beyond daydreaming. The creative process takes time, space, and energy. Trial-and-error is necessary to discover anything new, but this is a time-consuming luxury most of us can’t afford. Instead, we’re forced to prioritise going to work and earning enough money to pay the bills.

The above was written by Toby Lloyd, an artist and PhD student, working to advocate for a Universal Basic Income. UBI is an unconditional regular payment given to everyone to create a minimum income level that is the same across the country. But what UBI really offers, other than cold hard cash, is time.

It’s become clear that a radical change in approach to funding is needed, and a UBI provides a valid and obtainable solution to many of the injustices within the current funding system. By meeting everyone’s basic needs, it frees up their time and space to take a seat at the table and make real change happen. The current gig economy in which we all fight for scraps isn’t functional, and its resulting stress and resentment leads to violence, prejudice, and isolation. By creating more time for people for them to choose what to do with, they can dedicate themselves to things that matter to them, without having to worry so much about getting paid so they can have a roof over their head or pay the bills. 

This can also free up more space, time, and energy to pursue additional funding for arts projects. Leah Black, chief executive of WHALE Arts in Edinburgh, proposes that a new model of funding should be; long term (5-10 years), unrestricted, trust-based (allowing organisers to do what they feel is best for their community), designed in partnership with those for whom it’s for, and ‘administratively light’. 

Another way that we can approach new ways of funding is to try and increase the amount of core funding for smaller organisations. The Institute for Voluntary Action Research (IVAR) have published a useful report on core funding, which lays out both its benefits and challenges. They define core funding as financial support for ‘non-project costs; general operating costs; core costs; central costs; running costs; management, administration, and office costs; and overhead and support costs’. In the same vein as the proposal for a UBI, an increase in core funding would mean that organisations would be well enough resourced to carry out tasks such as funding applications to secure better pay for artists, and it would mean that all their time, instead of being taken up with keeping the organisation afloat, could be put towards doing the work that they set out to do in the first place.

A positive example of successful core funding is found in Tinderbox Collective in Edinburgh, but their experience lays out the difficulties of creating demonstrable results before being able to access this funding.

Tinderbox started as a voluntary organisation, essentially the same as ‘in kind’, and over 10 years it has established a track record of producing positive outcomes in various areas which has meant that we have attracted funding to keep doing what we’re doing. This enables us to pay as many people as we can for the work they do. But we are constantly assessing how this works and what is fair. We’re aware that volunteering and opportunities to volunteer are also a really important part of the ecosystem of the third sector and the arts. This means that there are often blurry situations where it’s difficult to decide what should be voluntary and what should be paid. The key is good communication, and we really try to maintain that.

Black’s proposal for the need for more trust-based funding is an integral part of reassessing core funding, since qualifying for core funding requires these years of ‘in kind’, which perpetuate the set-up of a privileged system. If organisations were trusted at the beginning, they could build up results alongside viable voluntary hours to work in the most efficient way possible. 

By remodelling funding, we can ensure a path to eradicating the exclusion of those who cannot afford to work for free. To be able to volunteer your time, in a capitalist society, is a luxury. This continues to strengthen the narrowed canon, since it is often those most privileged by society – white, middle class, cis, heteronormative, able-bodied people – that are rewarded. People of colour; those with disabilities and/or neurodivergent people are often those with much lower levels of income, and they rely on payment to survive and be able to give this time, which leaves them left out by a system that is built upon free labour. Briana Pegado, in conversation with the Scottish BAME Writers Network, writes: 

Throughout my time working across the arts, it has become more apparent how many of the organisations that are successful only work due to personal finance, personal privilege, access to the right people, or favouritism from Creative Scotland.

‘In Kind’ work effectively functions as way to get your foot in the door; opportunities to work for organisations that might ultimately result in paid work. Because of this, the ‘in kind’ is a system primarily designed to benefit the privileged – those with their needs met and time to spare. It is a system that does not value those just trying to survive in an unjust society that actively works against them, and there needs to be a better understanding within the art world that to have free time is not a given and therefore cannot be given out freely. 

Voluntary work within the arts can be incredibly valuable and useful and there should be a place for it, but currently it cannot be justified in its perpetuation of a bias towards the privileged.  To create a place for it, we need to make sure everybody’s needs are met so that it can be a luxury that everyone can afford – whether they choose to use it is then up to them, not their circumstances. 


Creating Change: Industria on advocating for fair pay (Jamila Prowse)

Funding Utopia – Five Years Unrestricted…. (Leah Black)

UBI and Creativity (Toby Phipps Lloyd)

Exploring Arts Class Problem (Hailey Maxwell)

In Coversation with Briana Pegado (Scottish BAME Writers Network)

In Kind and Out of Pocket: The Impact of Artists Working for Free (Jessica Ramm)

The Art World is Overwhelmingly Liberal But Still Overwhelmingly Middle Class and White – Why? (Hettie Judah)

Examining The ‘In Kind’ Economy at Glasgow International

In Kind? Artists Call for Rethinking on Unpaid Art Festival Work (Karin Goodwin)

In Kind Project Website

Scottish Artists Union 2016 Membership Survey

Information Sheet: Support In Kind (Arts Council England)

Thinking About… Core Funding (IVAR)

Eight Commitments from Flexible Funders (IVAR)

Industria Instagram Account

Industria Website

Artist Leaks Open Source Data – Responses (Industria)

Artist Leaks Open Source Data – Form (Industria)

UBI Lab Network