Survey of Arts Management

Course blog for American University PERF-570, Fall 2014

ON YOUR OWN – Freelancing as a choice



According to this article freelancers represent a third of U.S workers. The issue is whether this is a good thing or not taking into account that there is no legal protection associated with this approach of working and living.

The study in question states that there are different types of freelancers and with the advance of technology we have a lot of successful business study-cases. However, is it the same when we talk about the arts´world? At a first glance one may argue that there is a common condition: unsteadiness but at the same time many  countries are adopting measurements to encourage freelancing.

In regards to the dance world most of the dancers I know in Europe are freelancers not by choice or at least that is what most of them say or think. It is a fact that the number of dance companies available on the market is just not enough but I guess the problem is in the mentalities of dancers and the pre conceived ideas they were educated in. “Work as hard as you can – be a dancer at 16 or 18 (how?) and enter in a company” – this mentality promotes frustration and incapacity to work under different circumstances. Why are dancers so afraid of being freelancers? Musicians and actors have been doing it for so long.

From a dancer´s point of view it can be interesting to have the opportunity to work with different choreographers and have the freedom to choose the type of work you enjoy the most but unfortunately that is not always the case. Most of the contemporary dance freelancers have to engage in very commercial productions in order to sustain themselves. Only after “rent is secured” they can actually start choosing what they want to do but this this is not a problem related with freelancing itself but with the precarious situation of artists in general.

On the other hand it is interesting to see traditional classical dance companies and orchestras landing their “star performers” (interesting reading) and promoting good opportunities of enrichment not only for artists but also for the companies. It is a kind of freelancing within the organization.

My point is not to answer to the question whether freelancing is good or bad, it is surely having more impact in society these days, instead I hope to be able to understand what are the answers provided by arts organizations when faced with this (not so new) trend.

Moreover in terms of arts education what has been done to prepare young artist to this new paradigm?



cc flickr Leah PAlmer Preiss


5 comments on “ON YOUR OWN – Freelancing as a choice

  1. cayleycarroll
    September 10, 2014

    Whoa, I can’t believe a third of the American workforce is freelancers. That is much higher than I would have expected. I have been a freelance opera stage manager for the past four years and often when I mention to someone who is not in the industry that I freelance they seem baffled.

    The life of a freelancer can be tricky and but also a lot of fun. As Robert Reich of UC Berkley put it, freelancers “don’t have the workforce protections that have developed over the last 80 years. They are simply on their own.” He is absolutely right about that and I think it takes the right kind of person and mindset to make it work.

    For me, traveling around the country to different opera companies had its perks and setbacks. Here they are:

    The perks:
    -Getting to meet a ton of new people on each project
    -Getting to explore and live in a ton of new cities
    -Learning alternative methods/styles of your job from your new coworkers
    -Witnessing the different structures of different companies, seeing what works and what doesn’t
    -Working on a broad spectrum of projects
    -Not having to pay rent for years ❤

    The downsides:
    -Having to leave the new friends you just made when the contract is over
    -Always adjusting to the new/different protocols at different companies
    -Sometimes you walk into a really bad work environment
    -Always looking for a job to fill that weird gap you have over Thanksgiving next year
    -Doing your taxes

  2. carolynsupinka18
    September 11, 2014

    I agree with Cayley- I was not expecting that 1/3 of the American workforce freelances! In a world of companies that attempt to ‘personalize’ their product for consumers, I guess it makes sense that employees are also motivated to ‘personalize’ their professional lives by freelancing.

    As a writer, I can identify with the need to freelance as opposed to a more structured, predictable job at a single company. Established positions at publications are hard to come by and their assignments can feel limited in terms of content, so many writers I know juggle associations with several different publications, working on articles and content for maybe three different companies at one time.

    Though there are disadvantages to this method of work, it seems to pay off well. Writers have the power to accept assignments or simply walk away from an assignment if it doesn’t interest them, or if they don’t want to maintain the association with the publication any longer.

    The Forbes article suggests that this trend is increasing and would provide more opportunities to freelancers: “According to the union’s data, freelancers are enjoying an increase in demand for their services, with 32% saying that their workload has increased over the last year. Other positive trends, according to the survey: Some 65% said freelancing as a career path is more respected today than it was three years ago. More than a third, or 38%, said they expect their hours to increase in the next year. ”

    I would be interested to see how the publishing world (and the art world in general) adapts to this increased demand for freelance work. Maybe the initiative should come from the writers. There are already some online support communities for freelance writers to help them find work (writers is one) and make connections, but these communities could be made a lot more stronger and prominent.

  3. sarasps85
    September 12, 2014

    Thank you Lucy for pointing out the pros and cons of being a freelancer, specially the “fun” side you can take from it. I did not dare to talk about those because I was never a freelancer myself.
    Interesting to hear it from your perspective.

    Carolyn, it makes a lot of sense what you have said and for writers this seems like the best option. However, dancers do not think the same way. It will surely have to do with the collectiveness and physical aspect of dance but still I believe there is a unconscious stigma when it comes to freelancing in this area.

  4. Samantha Sobash
    September 12, 2014

    I remember the dream coming out of school was to join a dance company: work with a core family of fellow company members, be a necessary part of the artistic director/choreographer’s creative process over time, and fingers crossed have a reliable, steady income. The truth is more and more the work I find out there is project based. There is a constant need to search for the next job. For artists I feel as though the freelance model engenders a far more competitive nature, which could be detrimental to building an arts ecosystem locally or nationally.

    Dance is a very social experience in process and performance, and as Sara noted cannot really be compared to other art forms in terms of freelance culture. Concert dance work doesn’t have any sort of union to protect freelance performers, where musicians for example do have the option. I think overall freelance artists have a positive experience in collaborating in a variety of ways with various artists and spaces, however there is a deep rooted fear of stability that is uncharted for artists. The organizational structures of the art industry, particularly in dance, are not quite up to speed with today’s freelance job culture.

    • sarasps85
      September 12, 2014

      You are completely right Samantha.

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