When a university wants something for free

Our friend Fluter Scooter has been pondering how to get paid by public bodies that claim they have no cash.


We live in a time that undervalues the arts more than ever (I am speaking mostly about the USA).  Arts programs are being cut, audiences are shrinking, jobs are diminishing.  We all know this, and as much as we want to see things improve, we must make the best of what we have and start thinking differently.

There are many volunteer opportunities available in our communities, and offering your services to a cause or charity you believe in is always a great idea!  However, when it is a university, concert venue, or any arena which pays artists to perform or teach, these are NOT ACCEPTABLE places to volunteer!

Your thoughts?

Read on here.

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  • You have to pin them down from the outset, and ask directly – “Will this be a paid project, or are you expecting me to do this for free?”. And then agree exactly what the fee will be, and when and how it will be paid. Their ‘disorganisation’ on matters of payment is a practiced ruse to avoid payment.

    • If you ask the question like that, it implies that “expecting me to do this for free” is a realistic and acceptable possibility. I would phrase it:

      “How much money are you offering for this?”

      If you start the conversation with a phrase of this type, it makes it *much* more awkward for the person engaging you to turn around and say, “Actually, this is an unpaid engagement.”.

      If you have a clear idea of how much you want, you can set the tone by taking the initiative in quoting an amount:

      “Yes, I am interested. For [e.g.: “a 3-hour masterclass plus a lunchtime recital” — it is very important to be specific, otherwise people will just keep adding unpaid extras], my fee would be £X plus a travel surcharge of £Y. If you could assist with part of the travel arrangements (e.g.: providing accommodation; picking me up from the station), the travel surcharge could, naturally, be reduced.”

  • Let them speak, then say ‘yes’ or ‘no’. No-one expects doctors or lawyers to work for free; we’re often expected to ‘because you love doing it, right?’ or some other specious excuse. The only problem is how to remain polite in the face of such wilful ignorance.

    • Actually… there are so many people who expect lawyers to work for free that they made up a Latin term to make it sound dignified when they do it… “pro bono.”

      • …and yet you can be sure they would never have agreed to it if there had been a danger of defaulting on the mortgage or not having enough money to buy clothes for their children.

  • Having taught in the school of music at a public university for 33 years where I retired as a tenured full professor, I can tell you that there is ALWAYS money for what administration considers important. And without exception, the things administration considers important are money-making and PR (in that order). The freelance musician who can figure out how to make directors of schools of music look good and/or make money has the inside track.

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