Rant alert – why is culture and heritage expected to be free?

Why are culture and heritage, in particular, expected to be free?

A rant, by Jani.

We love culture and heritage, we do.  Often, we post about the things going on in Southampton, particularly in the Cultural Quarter, which is our neighbourhood.

A reaction we sometimes get is a complaint about the entry price or the fee for a workshop.

Lionface - worth paying for!

Lionface – worth paying for!


Entry to museums, or galleries (though happily our city gallery remains free) is usually around the price of a cinema ticket, or a round of drinks at a pub, or a book or DVD.  A day long workshop can be anything from twenty quid (that’s not even a meal out for two in most places) to a more pocket-pinching £120, for more specialist courses.

True, times are hard and people don’t have much money to spend.

True, there are issues when are and heritage are so expensive that marginalised people can’t access them.  I’m not talking about that, here.  I’m talking about the people who can afford to buy a DVD, go to the cinema, or have a round of drinks down their local.

The people who can afford to pay for art and culture – but don’t think they should have to.

My question is – if those who are enjoying the art aren’t paying, who does pay?

Venues and organisations cost money to run (we cost around £1 a minute, and we’re at the lower end of the cost scale).

Fair enough, some tax and Council tax does go to the Arts (not much these days) and there is funding available, but it’s a limited pot and usually goes to provide for low income and marginalised groups of people.

Now, our stuff is grassroots and, by it’s nature, many of the events are workshops we run are run by volunteers.  People facilitate for free, musicians play for free, performers perform for free, our crew work in the cafe…… you get the general idea.  If it wasn’t for this, we would have to charge a lot more than we do for the art side of things.

Our model, too, is for the food and drink sales in the cafe to fund the space, so that the art

Our Three Monkeys Night - entry is by donation, through the kindness of musicians who play for expenses only.  This is lovely - but not a feasible model for all live music!

Our Three Monkeys Night – entry is by donation, through the kindness of musicians who play for expenses only. This is lovely – but not a feasible model for all live music!

doesn’t need to make money.

Part of how we work as a grassroots, nonprofit venue is that everyone pitches in and very little payment changes hands, and all the money we do make goes right back in.

But, this isn’t a model for all arts events.


Artist and venues need to be financially viable, if we want there to be more of them.  It can’t all rely on goodwill and funding.  People need to dig into their pockets at some point and fund the art and artists they love.

At some point, an artist has to switch from ‘I’m new and trying this out’ to ‘this is my job’. 

At some point, an artist has to be paid in order to spend enough time practicing their art to get really good at it.  You don’t reach excellence in your creative field when you are working 8 hours a day as a telephone salesperson.

I believe the perception that art should be free has the most direct, difficult implications of all for the artists themselves.

There is a huge debate around venues paying musicians to play.  Musicians who make a living out of playing music, as opposed to people who do it as a hobby, frequently end up working a ‘day job’ to fund their real job of being a musician.

The same goes for artists of every kind.

Now, I do think artists need to wise up a little and grow some business sense when it comes to getting paid.  Realising what you are getting paid FOR when you gig is a good start for a musician (clue:  it’s not to play nice tunes, it’s to get punters in).   All artists need to get savvy with marketing what they do – and lose the idea that it’s ‘dirty’ to do it.

It’s not dirty to make sure as many people as possible see, read or hear your art.   Quite the opposite.

So, artists can and should take responsibility, I think, for understanding how the business side of creativity works.

But it’s a symbiosis – between artists, the organisations that hire them and….. most of all…. the people who come and enjoy what artists do.

I’d love to hear what you think, in the comments!

About arthousesouthampton

The Art House is a not-for-profit café, gallery and arts venue in the centre of Southampton. We are a place you can meet new people, meet up with friends or just come in by yourself. Our licensed café offers delicious organic lunches, Fairtrade tea and homemade cake. We also have a busy programme of events, workshops, and art exhibitions, a clothing and crafts boutique and lots more. Most of our crew are volunteers and you might even want to apply to join them. Come along and enjoy our unique, community run space.
This entry was posted in Advice for artists, Behind the scenes, Our philosophy. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s