Financial safety is paramount for freelance creatives and art collectives. To do our best work we need to make sure that we have every aspect of our lives under control: personally, professionally, socially, and as citizens. In almost every conversation I have these days, money keeps coming up.
We need money to pay ourselves, to cover our expenses and bills, to pay our colleagues, to pay our taxes, maintain our websites, to take a break, to attend performances, to travel, to continue our learning, to grow and live. When there is only a certain amount of income coming in, we need to prioritize and make choices.
Every time this challenge comes up, it pushes us to go deeper and find the true value in our work, its “unique selling point”, and make decisions. For many, the beginning of this new season was no different. There is no ‘safety manual’ to lean back to, exactly because freelancing is a complicated and often unpredictable career path.
While writing this text, I realize that exactly a year ago, I left Manchester to come back to Athens. Although I am still involved in some projects in the UK, I am not sure how this article would shape if I were still based outside of Greece.
After a year of navigating the highs and lows of the local art sector, I am reminding myself that I already knew about the lack cultural policies in place, or support for freelancers. Would it be easier if I was located somewhere else?
I am not sure I have specific learnings to share that could actively help you in your freelance path, but there is a realization that I’d like to share.
I recall a few times that people around me had taken the leap even when things were unclear. More than once was said that ‘no matter the risk, I want to do this’. And most of the times, these are creative freelancers who not only have a great business idea, but can also balance logical steps, intuition, and confidence. Unfortunately, I am aware that these are never enough to guarantee a level of financial stability.
I often wish there was a manual to guide us through the process; or even a confirmation that we are heading to the right direction, or at least, not to the completely wrong one.
I am also looking for an answer as to when we ought to start questioning whether the ups are worth the downs. But this is an unrealistic request, so many of us keep wondering:
How long until it works out?
How long until our business is viable?
How long is long enough?
Maybe it's still early? Or is it too late?
Am I doing things wrong?
Is there such thing as taking the right risk, after all?
Beginnings are always rough, and even more so when there is no safety net. There is no prior knowledge on the right amount of risk that we should be prepared for, or the right number of failures or successes we can aim for. What we are left with is our own risk tolerance, that unfolds at the margins of our personal optimism, realism, and luck.
Do we get it always right? No. Do we get disappointed? Absolutely, even heartbroken. Will it pay out? No idea, but I will keep trying, same as most creatives I know. And that’s why freelancing in the arts and culture, looks like an act of bravery to me this afternoon.
As I said at the beginning, its complicated.