Paying the Writer

Last week a journalist acquaintance from the Times phoned me up to ask me what I thought about SPT's (Strathclyde Partnership for Transport) advertisement for a Poet in Residence to write and source poems for the Glasgow Subway. I said - for I could not tell a lie - that I thought the project itself sounded absolutely brilliant, and something I would love to have been involved in myself, but the pay was appalling. They weren't looking for a student or trainee. They wanted an experienced writer with a considerable body of published work to source poems, set up and run a writing and a reading group in a local library and throw in a series of workshops in a primary school for good measure. All this was based on a nominal 40 hours week, for 9 months of which half (ie 20 hours a week) was meant to be spent on the writer's own work. Quite apart from the fact that the job as described would definitely take longer than the 20 hours allowed - workshops demand preparation - the remuneration is £13500. Now if you do the arithmetic, you will see that this comes out at something like the minimum wage.
SPT are looking for an experienced professional consultant, for which they are planning to pay call centre wages. Their executives told the Times that the project would be a 'showcase' for the poet's work. But as the redoubtable Harlan Ellison points out in no uncertain terms such showcasing does little or nothing to help the writer. I've been married to an artist-woodcarver for many years now and if I had a pound for every time somebody has asked him to work for little or nothing 'because it will be a good showcase for you' we would be a wealthy couple. When did you last hear of a time served and experienced electrician being asked to work for the minimum wage 'because it'll be a good advert for your services'? And before anyone tells me that artists and writers are expendable while electricians are not, when did you ever hear of a specialist arts administration consultant working for the minimum wage in order to advertise their services?
Money. I'm hugely well qualified, experienced, committed. When I'm employed, I work hard. In return I expect a fair day's pay for a fair day's work.

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