Dear Young Creatives: Persevering Without Pay

The financial crisis facing young creatives.

Illustration credits: Ruby Hinchliffe

Whether you made the bold and frightening decision to uproot your life in pursuit of the creative dream, or you’re fighting for success from a countryside British town – the prospects for young artists in 2019 are bleak. Balancing a part-time, or often a necessary full-time, job whilst ruthlessly pursuing an artistic passion is, to put it plainly, fucking shite.

There are never enough hours in the day. I used to bombard myself with ‘Instagram positivity’ by telling myself, ‘I have just as many hours in my day as Beyoncé’, shaming my body into working and networking to the point of frenzied sleep deprivation. The result of which was never the desired one: reaching a goal or propelling even slightly closer towards my life ambitions.


We pressure and guilt ourselves into unrealistic working standards to the point of delirium because we are constantly told that to be successful we must never, ever stop pushing. Perhaps this notion of ‘The Big Push’ is true. But in reality, for many of us in our early twenties, pushing means overcoming mental health struggles whilst making it to auditions, it means finding commissions at the same time as trying to get published. Honing our crafts has never been harder.

What happens when as a consequence of all this pushing, a minor mental meltdown (usually weekly or even daily) ensues? The only choice is to brush it off, keep going and move on. After all, you’re never going to be successful wasting time like that.

Following a month long drought, you may have achieved a small success. Someone wants to use your art, a fragment of your tireless work has paid off but – oh, they’re not going to pay you. So you face the tormenting decision, do I pass up the potential of exposure because I know I am being exploited, or, do I throw myself, already exhausted, into yet another task on the off chance that it may lead to something greater? How long do I continue to be knowingly taken advantage of before I throw the towel in?

With austerity tightening and Brexit looming like a dark cloud, we are all preparing for dramatic budget cuts under the Tories. As ever, the first sector to fall short of funds and be cut from manifestos almost entirely will be the arts.

Les Femmes d’Alger (Source:

So, let’s talk art. It’s something that comes in many forms and what every person desperate to inhale culture wishes to consume but, apparently, not pay for. You’re ‘uncultured’ if you don’t know the names of each Picasso painting in his Les Femmes d’Alger series, or the title of that famous Edgar Allen Poe poem.

But, here we are, as a society, or even culture, telling children, teenagers and young adults that their art will be nothing more than unpaid labour knowing that so many have been major influencers. That we, in order to even get our toe in the door, have to work two jobs for years of our lives to perhaps not even get into the industry we adore.

Every contributor to this magazine you’re reading right now is working two jobs, be that in hospitality, an office or whatever else just to pay the rent, and this ‘thing’, this art we write or draw is for free, because for now, it has to be. In the midst of a government who tells us that the sciences are what will guarantee us the security of a decent wage, we’re pushing against this, to change these antiquated attitudes.

        Guardian headline

To strike hope into the hearts of all the young creatives reading this, we will be interviewing one up and coming artist at the end of every month. They will tell us how they began, if they’ve started to get paid work and how exactly they maintained and pursued their dream.

We don’t believe money is everything but it definitely does help to pay the rent, buy our weekly food shop, perhaps feed our children one day and allow us to pay off our mortgage (when we have one). At some point in our lives we are going to quit hospitality, sales and admin jobs and we pray that on that day we are quitting because our art has taken off. However, for now, we will continue to persevere without pay.

Co-written by Stephanie Kleanthous.

Edited by Twentyhood.

Currently, Helena is working full time in hospitality. When she's not working, she's writing music and was previously a volunteer at the LGBT Centre in Birmingham, UK. Her specific areas of interest are gay rights, political leaders and upcoming artists.

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