Ask Rho: The State of the Arts
This month's columnist ponders whether it's worth it to keep your dream job if it's terrible (no)
As part of our job swap for the November issue, theatre editor Rho Chung takes the reins of this month's Ask Anahit column. Get your asks in for December via our NGL page (all totally anonymous, your secrets are safe with us...)
I hate my job in the arts, but I worked SO HARD to get where I am. Should I pack it in? Or stick it out in the hopes that the pay and conditions improve?
I wish that I could offer a secret, third option that makes this choice easier. I'll start by saying that no career choice is final. There's a fear, especially in the arts, of 'falling behind' or losing progress, but it's okay to do those things. It's normal. Taking a step back now to pursue something like a quality of life doesn't mean that you'll never be able to find the same quality of life in the arts. And I hear where you're coming from – leaving a job that you've poured so much time and work into feels like a waste. I'm not outright telling you to quit; but I'm not not telling you to quit.
If one is available to you, I would recommend joining a union. For those of us who have no choice but to stay in our jobs, labour organising does have a strong precedent in the arts. The mechanisms behind poor pay and working conditions can feel insurmountably large, but that is the point of a union – to show the workforce to be much, much larger. You can read more about arts unions in Scotland in this list by Creative Scotland (at the bottom).
Your time and energy are finite. And a job on which you rely to survive is still, no matter how creative, a job. The problem isn't you; it's capitalism. It's the lie we've been sold since we were young – that a good and meaningful life is out of reach unless we work ourselves to the bone.
This may be a grim answer, but I give you permission to put your wellness before your career. After all, a career is kind of a construct, isn't it? Not being paid for your art doesn't make you less of an artist. But if you work so hard for your art that you become less of a person, then what is the point of art?