The Evil Imp

Show Them The Money

Uber, in-case you don’t know, is a taxi company that pretends not be a taxi company. Aside from being a taxi company pretending not to be a taxi company they are, demonstrably, a terrible organisation to work for. Their drivers are underpaid, the company is embroiled in a series of scandals involving sexual harassment and they have admitted to using technology to avoid the detection of illegal operations by legislators. Uber’s CEO, Travis Kalanick, was caught on camera verbally abusing one of his own [not a] taxi drivers after that individual brought up the fact that he was underpaid.

A common refrain from Uber’s customers is that the company is better than a regular taxi outfit because they are cheaper. Having never used the service we, here in TheLab™, cannot vouch for that claim but technology publication The Verge reported on March 6th that Uber is subsidising the cost of each journey to the tune of 60% of the total cost of the fare;

“How can Uber reassure investors that it can become a profitable company when it heavily subsidizes its fares? Recent reports indicate that riders only cover around 40 percent of each trip, with Uber covering the rest. “This is critical because it suggests we’re dealing with a charity case in disguise,” Izabella Kaminsky wrote in the Financial Times last year.”

That subsidy comes from the money investors have given to Uber to help it grow and achieve world domination of the public transportation industry, or something. Using Uber is not “cheaper” than travelling by taxi when you take the fare subsidy into account. The drivers and the company employees are being treated like garbage but users can get home after a party for pennies in the pound so just shrug it off and move on, apparently, because that’s progress. Apart from the fact that it’s not progress at all, it’s all fake.

Amazon Freebie

Something similar is happening over at Amazon. When you order something, anything, from the online retailer (as-long as it’s over a certain value) then you can tick the “free delivery” box and avoid incurring any pesky additional charges on your purchase. Of course, the delivery is not free at all, how could it be? Somebody, somewhere must bring that package to you or one of Amazon’s locker locations and that person, unless they are the world’s most altruistic individual, needs to get paid. They also need to pay for their vehicle, the fuel in that vehicle, the insurance on that vehicle and they also need to fix that vehicle if it breaks down.

The core issue here is a fundamental inability on the part of too many people to understand that all things do have a financial cost attached to them. Somebody somewhere is paying a price for cheap services and “free” delivery.

Preacher Man

Let us now turn our hymnals to page 46 and sing our sacred songs about all the “free” stuff that arts organisations in the UK put out there for the public to enjoy. Free performances, free seminars, free classes, free workshops or a free event covering one thing or another. If you like the arts and have some spare time, then all the free stuff going on is a dream come true with the blatantly obvious caveat that it’s not free at all. This is especially true of any arts organisation with a “funded by” logo from a public arts funding body prominently displayed on their publicity materials.

Article19 is not trying to suggest that by marketing something as being free an attempt is being made to cover up the fact that they are in receipt of public funding. Right-wing news publications frothing at the mouth about public expenditure on anything notwithstanding, there is very little to fear from admitting that your dance company or arts building receives public money. What we’re suggesting is that you should embrace the fact that you receive public money and go to great lengths to explain those costs to the very people who give you that money.

When you make it clear that the workshop your company is providing on a warm Sunday afternoon for any young kids who want to show up does have a cost attached to it and that money, more often than not, comes from a public source, straight away you are working from a position of strength. Not only are you pointing out to the public what their money is being used for but also providing context for what happens if that funding is taken away.

This is about doing a lot more than just putting a logo on your leaflets and websites. If you’re hosting a class at your local National Dance Agency, then put a detailed cost breakdown on your website and promotional flyer.

Renting the studio for 2 hours; that’s £400. Paying the experienced professional dancer for teaching the class; that’s £25 with a zero in the travel expenses column. (That’s some grade-A snark, right there! Ed!) If you have room for all your promotional text then you have some room for a short cost breakdown. Be creative.

If you’re doing something bigger, like running a dance company and managing a nationwide tour then, once again, break all the costs down on your website or go all-in and use a page in your programme to illustrate income and expenditure. Show people that the money isn’t being spent on “luvvies” playing at being an “artist”. Illustrate the travel costs, the wage bill, administration, designing and transporting sets and VAT payments. If you pay money for it then be open, honest and direct about what you are using the money for. We know that registered charities are required by law to file publicly accessible accounts but those documents are often impenetrable and a year out of date and this is about much more than simply complying with the law.

Embrace The Numbers

Educating people about the publicly subsidised arts world could play a significant role in the ongoing fight to secure funding for the arts from both central and local government. If people understand that it costs £4,000 to provide a summer school that their kids really love being a part of and the £20 price tag for participating doesn’t even begin to cover the actual cost they might be more inclined to support your company if you have to explain the summer school is going away because of a 25% cut to your core funding.

We assume that people understand that, for the most part, arts funding is not being frittered away on massive salaries and sparkly costumes for the latest show at Covent Garden. We assume that people understand the difference between what goes on at Covent Garden and what goes on in a small, regional arts organisation that really does look out for everybody and tries to include everybody in what they do. You know what they say about people who assume things, right?

Explaining the numbers in a simple, creative way (don’t just throw a spreadsheet out there) should play a part in your ongoing education programme and could be just as important as the classes, workshops and after show talks are to your personal or company development. In the arts world ideas and creativity matter but from a practical point of view, so does the money. Start talking about the money and how you use it.

Don’t wait until it’s too late.

[ Photo by Lorent Moose ]