Working Tax Credits and Art

In 2007 I was lucky enough to be accepted onto the Access to HE Art & Design course at City College Norwich. I’m not joking when I say I had to hold back the tears when the course leader, Brenda Unwin mentioned the delicate lines in some drawings in my sketchbook. The Access course was affordable and also paved the way for me to go to university; the first in my family to do so.

Two years later, and having sold two artworks – one purchased by the then Principal Dick Palmer – at the end of year show, I could only look forward and deliberately stub my toe to see if it was a reality that I had been accepted onto the Fine Art BA Hons course at Norwich University of the Arts.

Prior to these events a career of fruitless telesales jobs, and excruciatingly soulless door-to-door sales jobs, provided me with enough money to forget five days of seven week in, week out. Alongside those jobs I was fortunate enough to work as a stagehand for Theatre Royal, Norwich, and get odd jobs as a local crew guy helping shift band equipment for AC/DC, The Rolling Stones, Pantera et al at Transam Trucking. None of these jobs were regular, but paid well.

Now, in 2015, I find myself working very hard creating art, maintaining my website, responding to and sending emails, checking for opportunities, failing at all the above, but nevertheless continuing. As well as this I – until a few weeks ago – worked as a cleaner wherever and whenever I could in order to cobble together enough funds to pay the rent and bills and purchase materials necessary to create art. Considering I have a degree (a 2:1) it is only fitting I do so, and respectful to my hardworking lecturers who helped pave my way.

I was thrilled to receive £30 per week Working Tax Credits (it seems the ‘working’ bit has been ignored in recent political debate) and this helped ease the burden of my wife being the main provider. My wife has worked very hard to gain a sniff of an opportunity which has resulted in her employment for three years in the museum sector of East Anglia. Prior to this her employment was as a waitress/bar tender. Unless the opportunity arose, this would have been our future for the foreseeable time.

We met at Norwich University of the Arts (NUA) and, as many graduates do, looked forward to our new lives as artists or working as creative-minded people. When I graduated, I could not believe I received an award for my work; one was bought by Sir John Hurt, and another was bought by NUA for its permanent collection. I could hardly believe it when the Principal, John Last, mentioned my name amongst students who had excelled. My dad and his mum were in attendance, and coupled with meeting the late artist Roger Ackling and his wife Sylvia who gave me the award mentioned earlier, I could not believe the dream had exceeded itself and reality. For the first time in my life I was proud of myself. I was also selected for the Recent Graduates Exhibition at the Affordable Art Fair. Since then, of course, opportunities are slim and paid opportunities are even slimmer.

Many would argue, in some sense justifiably, that we chose to get in our metaphoric bed. We did, that is true. But we also have worked very hard to get we are today; which isn’t rolling around in money, owning our own home, being able to get on with work without any stress niggling away at our brains, but simply to do what we are capable of, and – this will sound egotistical – providing something for the enjoyment of others.

The Tax Credits of £30 per week made a huge difference. It meant I could buy art materials without having to budget so drastically. It meant we could, if we chose, order a takeaway. It meant we could pay the often forgotten water bill. We had some money that allowed us to pursue what, in my case, I’d spent 5 years studying for.

I’m not lazy. I work. I work really hard which often encompasses a huge mental battle of whether my work is any good, should be exhibited, or even bought. When I do sell an artwork, it is Christmas Day. I can’t expect anyone outside of creative work to fully understand just how difficult it is producing something; I’ve the benefit of being able to talk to two very well-known authors and they have sympathy for what I do because they know just how ridiculous a pursuit art is.

If the government goes ahead with its proposal to cut Tax Credits, this will be a blow to my creative practice. It will make my work harder and not for the reasons it is supposed to be. Creative work does not spring out of a hat willy-nilly. It is not easy (I used to think it was), and it takes an incredibly blinkered view to carry out.

If I was an artist with work in Tate, or top-end galleries in London, New York, or Paris, some members of the government may even own a piece of my work. They may think that my success was down to sheer hard work. No success is down to that. Luck is a huge factor. The people you know MAY be able to open doors, but artists should not have to factor luck or wealthy friends into their equation. They should be able to get on with their work.

Of course some members of parliament think I’m being an entrepreneur because I’m registered as being self-employed. I’m only self-employed because I could get £30 a week to help with my art. My earnings are less than funny.

If George Osborne really wants to help me in my hard work, he could always pay above the going rate for one of my paintings.

Expected Year of Mortality

Expected Year of Mortality

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