Resources for freelancers, collectives & arts organisers

Rachel Dobbs shares a range of use­ful tools and resources from the per­spec­tive of a ser­i­al freelancer

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As a serial freelancer, working as an artist, educator and organiser of various things, I wanted to share a range of tools & resources that I find really useful on a regular basis.

Fees, payments & trade unions

a-n The Artists Information Company have published a free-to-use artist’s fees toolkit - you just need to register to make a free account (top tip: save your password somewhere, as there doesn’t seem to be a password reset option!).

Although it’s designed for artists, I would recommend any freelancer to use this to easily work out your daily 'labour only' rate, what contribution you need to add to cover your business overheads & prepare clear quotes for people you work for. It also encourages you to decide what your target annual earnings are and helps you work out the number of days a year on which you can really work (clue: the answer is never 365!).

Alongside this, I often find the various salary calculators published here very useful for working out things like take-home pay, pro-rata salaries and hourly pay rates.

a-n also publish a handy rate card for visual artists each year - you’ll find the 2019 version here. To find updated versions, just search online “a-n artist fees” and the current year. Use this when you’re planning to employ other people on your projects. Artists’ Union England also publish a more detailed breakdown by hourly rate, rates for different types of work, residency rates and screening presentation fees. If you are exhibiting your work in publicly funded galleries (or are an exhibition organiser), a-n’s Paying Artists campaign has produced a useful guide to best practice in exhibition payments.

If you work as a freelance technician in AV, sound, lighting or video editing (or employ other people to do this), check out BECTU’s rate cards. You can also join BECTU for affordable public liability cover, personal accident cover & reduced rates on Media Freelancer Insurance (to cover your kit while you work).

While I am on the topic of insurance, if you work as an artist, organiser or creative freelancer, you should check out a-n’s insurance policies for Public & Products Liability and Professional Indemnity, one-off exhibitions and covering freelancers working in arts consultancy, curating, commissioning, project management and research. If you run events, check out Hiscox's tailored one-off events policies or search “multiple events insurance UK” to get cheaper cover for two or more events per year.

As times get increasingly tough (after ten years of austerity and cuts with no end in sight), I would also encourage you (and your friends and colleagues) to join and become an active member of a relevant trade union with a track record of taking on case work and actively engaging in collective bargaining. If you work at a university or in post-16 education, join the University and College Union (UCU). If you are a freelance designer, architect, gallery worker, artist, curator, intern or art educator, join UVW’s Design & Culture Workers branch. (They are currently working mainly in London, but with increased members in the SW we can make it work here, too.) If you are a specialist worker in museums, heritage or arts organisations (full-time, part-time, freelance and consultancy), join Prospect. If you work in non-performance roles in broadcasting, film and cinema, digital media, independent production, leisure, IT and telecoms or theatre and the arts, join BECTU.

Trade unions are owned and run by their members, who work together to negotiate your pay and conditions, influence employers and government on your behalf, campaign for better quality jobs and standards, and offer legal support and training to help you organise collectively and achieve change. Counter to the 1980s myth, trade unions are NOT DEAD, they are standing up for workers all across the UK – check out each of the above unions' websites to see the successes they have achieved via their campaigns.

Precarious work

As precarious work (e.g. self-employed, freelance and zero hours) becomes increasingly the norm for countless workers (within and beyond visual arts), it can be hard to work out when to say YES or NO to different work opportunities. I struggle with this myself on a weekly basis. To counter this, I published a Self Care Checklist for Precarious Workers (inspired by, and built on the foundations of the Checklist of Care published by artist Shelia Ghelani.

I would recommend looking into Precarious Workers Brigade - a UK-based group of precarious workers in culture and education. Their workbook “Training for Exploitation? Politicising Employability and Reclaiming Education” is a must read for anyone who teaches employability, ‘professional practice’ and work-based learning.

If you are new to self-employment, I would also recommend checking out my guide to Being Really Good At Being Self-Employed. You will need to get really good at saving because you need an emergency fund of at least 3 months-worth of out-goings as a basic safety net. You will need to get good at ‘doing the maths’, get good at living on a budget, get good at cooking yourself cheap and healthy meals and start using the 30-day list for non-essential purchases.

Collective Organising & Developing Projects

Quite a lot of my time is spent on collective organising and developing projects through initiatives I work with including CAMP, North Star Study Group, Jamboree, a-n Artists Council and the work I do as a freelancer for Take A Part. Here are some tools and resources that I use regularly in this kind of work.

NESTA have compiled an excellent free DIY toolkit of 30 tried-and-tested tools for social innovation, that help you work through developing a clear plan, clarifying priorities, generating new ideas and better understanding the people you are working with. This is great for anyone involved in group facilitation, or groups and individuals who would like to try out structured ways of thinking through what they are doing.

Along similar lines, the Community Canvas is a useful framework that will help you build a community (any type of group, collective or organisation that brings people together and makes them feel like they belong) by giving you a structure to ask the right questions and identify all the important areas you need to consider.

Seeds For Change have also developed an extensive collection of free downloadable guides in essentials like campaign skills, consensus decision making, facilitation, skills for working in groups, resources for co-ops and running workshops.

If you are new to working in groups or group leadership, I would also recommend reading “Swarmwise: The Tactical Manual To Changing The World” by Rick Falkvinge (founder of the Swedish Pirate Party). This was particularly influential for us at CAMP, in working out how CAMP might organise to “get things done”.

If you are trying to work out what resources you and your group can tap into in your area (e.g. venues for hire, sharing organisations and green spaces), I would highly recommend making a map together. You can do this in a number of ways – here are two that I particularly like!

You can work remotely by creating a shared, collaborative Google map and adding pins and info around whatever your focus is – here’s an example. You can also work face-to-face by setting up an easy-to-organize event (a MapJam) where a small, dedicated group of people get together for a few hours to map as many resources in their city or town as possible - here’s a guide on how to host a MapJam.

If you also get interested in how the place where you live has changed over time, I would recommend this side-by-side geo-referenced maps viewer by the National Library of Scotland.

Once you have worked out what you would like to work on together, you can use this arts and community fundraising quickstart guide to help develop ideas by identifying the need for a new project, setting clear aims and objectives, creating a fundraising story canvas and applying for funding.

If you are applying to Arts Council England’s Project Grants, I would of course recommend using the ACE Cheatsheet that I prepared a few years ago to save some time.

Finally, if you are thinking about crowdfunding, there are masses of resources here to help you get started. I would particularly recommend “How to start crowdfunding: a beginner’s guide to resources & advice” and “Crowdfunding: How to fund in 48 hours” as a crash course.