Street scene, Manchester . Photo credit: Stephen Riley
I am increasingly fascinated by the number of ‘opportunities’ I get to work for nothing. One has to wonder why it is that artists are singled out for this kind of enquiry. Do the people who make these requests believe that artists do not need to eat or pay rent or fuel bills? No-one would expect a plumber to work for free, so why an artist?
I refer, here, not to charities or the voluntary sector - I do free work in both of those - I refer to people setting up or developing or running businesses, such as magazines and various online media, and looking for free labour and talent to build what will be theirs once it brings in funds.
Perhaps one could deal with this by extending the logic to the various suppliers of the services we all use: Tesco, for example. By the same thinking, one could take a trolley of food to the check-out and say ‘I can’t afford to pay you, but giving this food to me for free will provide you with valuable experience of purveying food; you will make many useful contacts because I will share this food with friends and family and tell them how helpful and efficient you have been; and you will be able to say that you have successfully mastered the supplying of food on a voluntary basis, and that will look good on your CV’.
One would have to assume that the people offering these ‘opportunities’ also have to eat and pay bills and that they therefore put to work, for profit, the material they persuade artists to provide for free. In short, given that everyone’s work-time is now a commodity, the phenomenon we are looking at here is a codified and slightly milder version of those dodgy schemes one sees in which people are conned into paying an up-front fee for jobs that do not really exist: one pays with time for a nebulous promise, which will almost certainly amount to nothing, whilst making money for someone else.