It is a discourse that many have already had, but at the same time are reluctant to address: The discussion about the correct payment of freelance artists. While the professionalisation of the sector is the buzzword of 2022, in many places there is still no trace of adequate remuneration.
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"How can you estimate value? Unfortunately, I don't have an answer to that either – the 'trial and error' principle applies", is one of the relevant questions asked by Marc (name changed by editor), who has been working as a professional musician and composer in Luxembourg for five years. We are talking about the pay of self-employed people in the local art and culture milieu. Sometimes it's laughably low, sometimes you have to chase it, sometimes it doesn't come at all – not because the agreed service wasn't provided, but simply because you're an artist.
At the beginning of June, a local association drew negative attention to itself on social networks with an official casting call for professional dancers. For a scene in the film Dany Cage, the production of which is partly supported by the Luxembourg Film Fund, the makers were looking online for dance professionals to move to the iconic sounds of Jimi Hendrix, The Doors or The Rolling Stones. So far, so good, if there wasn't a small catch: for eight hours of work, a fee of 50 euros was offered – just 6.25 euros per hour.
Underpayment on the daily menu
About two weeks later, another incident caused displeasure in the Luxembourg arts milieu: the well-known national indie folk band The Tame and the Wild posted publicly about their withdrawal from the Philharmonie's Fräiraim Festival, which took place on the same weekend. The reason: no fee for the performing musicians. While in the case of the casting call the posted explanation that it was an extra role in a film project paid for by association funds and not a stage performance or choreographer's job was deleted the same day along with the advertisement, the Philharmonie referred on inquiry to the fact that the festival had been announced an amateur festival from the beginning with no promise of payment – an information the culture house had openly communicated. Meanwhile, among the invited artists that were supposed to perform at Fräiraim before the covid-19 pandemic, there hadn’t only been hobby musicians, but also well-known artists such as the Luxembourger Serge Tonnar, who was asked to perform "on a voluntary basis" too.
Marc has no sympathy for either action, because as a freelance artist, such anecdotes make him disgruntled. "You simply have to see the whole thing in relation to each other: If you go to a garage to have your tyres changed, you pay 80 euros per hour. So why should I as an artist only charge six euros?" However, according to him, underpayment or brazen hiring on a "voluntary" basis is not a rarity in the art and culture milieu, but almost part of everyday life. "We have often worked with our band in large venues for two days as a trio in order to earn a total of 300 euros. I can't take anyone seriously anymore when they talk about professionalising the sector", says the composer.
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