Report by John Holmes, 7 June 2015

Convener: John Holmes

In attendance: Lila Palmer, Manuel Furtado, Christian Mattler

We started by looking at two issues:

1 Can and should opera companies always pay the living wage - as opposed to the minimum wage or asking people to work for free?

2 Should we aim for pay ratios between the highest and lowest members of the team, for example where the best paid person is paid no more than 10 times to lowest paid person?

The discussion then broadened into talk about challenges facing young artists, and some actions.

Living wage issues:

For singers:

1 Learning music in advance is often not taken into account in payment for projects, so pay falls below living wage.

2 Fringe opera companies operating profit share or asking people to work for free. Clearly there are grey areas - for example, should British Youth Opera performers be paid?

3 Conservatoires hiring out their current students for performances, often undercutting their own recent graduates.

More broadly:

1 Many recent examples of cleaners, ushers, guides at large institutions challenging low pay. If these staff are paid so poorly, will they be able to see the company's work and become proud of it / invested in it?

2 This in turn means there isn't a culture of value, so talent is not utilised properly.

3 Do large pay differentials mean the highest paid staff become out of touch with their employees and the public? Does it have consequences for diversity (answer - almost certainly yes).

Positive solutions:

1 Some fringe companies are making it their USP for fundraising purposes that they pay artists a living wage. Although it is early days, there are indications this is popular with funders.

2 Mixed business models - whereby subsidy goes to parts of an organisation that don't generate income in and of themselves (e.g. artist training), while things like restaurants, conference facilities are always run efficiently to maximise profit.

3 Ensemble models, with flat fees between principals and chorus, which encourage company harmony and sharing of skills.

4 Learning from corporate world with performance-related pay in some areas e.g. fundraising, marketing (where appropriate).

5 Implementing pay ratios so that big global stars are not paid more than 10 times per performance the fee for the chorus. If the star system erodes because of this, there may well be positive consequences in diversifying artists, audiences and the art form itself.

Some hard-nosed principles worthy of further discussion:

1 If you've trained, you should be paid.

2 If you can't pay the living wage, it's not a viable business model.

We then found ourselves talking about issues for young artists, knowing that a high proportion of those who train at conservatories or even move on to young artists programmes do not end up with a permanent career in opera.

1 Why don't trusts who fund young artists programmes ask more questions about what happens to them?

2 Artists should definitely get broader education in media, marketing, finances during their training. Why doesn't this happen? Is there resistance from conservatoires, who think artists need to be pure and absent from such responsibilities?

3 Why no male singers at D&D Opera, while there are a number of female singers? Perhaps because there are less male singers, there is less competition and therefore they don't need to learn as many business skills (however, we haven't had a male singer's perspective on this…)

Some potential actions:

1 Lobby large organisations to sign up as Living Wage employees - persuading them that creating a positive working environment makes sense from a business as well as ethical point of view.

2 A voluntary code of practice for fringe companies to sign up for about taking care of artists.

3 A ‘buddying up’ network so that singers can learn marketing, finance skills for admin staff (if interested, talk to Lila Palmer or John Holmes to see if this might happen)

4 Fee transparency, so that we can see if male and female singers are paid the same.

5 Artists feel empowered to share experiences (no culture of fear) and showing solidarity with poorly paid support staff e.g. Mark Wallinger and National Gallery protest.