How do we survive?

How do we survive? – this is a question I have been asked a lot lately and I think the answer always surprises people a little. I am not sure how we look from the outside, we are not an affluent organisation at all, there are no paid staff on board, all that you see is pulled together by people who contribute time and energy in something they believe in – that arts and culture, no matter who you are should be accessible to all.

We have been here for 20 years and I say we because even though the nugget of an idea came into my head, it has been nurtured and grown and encouraged by so many people, not only people that have "joined" jelly for days, weeks, months or even years but by the people that come along, join in, write encouraging things and those who criticise us, it all shapes the way we are and the way we grow.

Why are we still doing it? – because those needs and wants still exist, Reading still struggles in visual art space, we have moved from building to building, dreaming of one day having a more secure home but realising that unless we can generate enough money to pay the rents, business rates, utilities, liabilities and generate regular streams of income this isn't going to happen. So we hop from venue to venue, learning something new, growing and shrinking, emerging again, just like "jelly" moving to fit a mould or shape or space that is available for us.

Jelly has never had core funding, we used to get rate relief as a charity  but just over 18 months ago it was decided by our Local Authority that charitable arts organisations would not be eligible for this discretionary relief. So we have to work a bit harder and yes, even though we would like a shop front the real truth is we can't afford it.

Times are tough for everyone and regularly we are asked to deliver workshops for free. Each request we are met with, I then send the same email explaining that our charges are the same as they were in 2004 (could you imagine not increasing anything for 9 years), that each artist is paid the same amount, there are material costs travel costs (unless local), plus we have to have insurance and CRB fees. These are there to protect the participants and even though on a session of 2 hours, the fee that comes to jelly would be somewhere between £8-10 to cover the admin, insurance and a proportion towards CRB fees we are still asked this question. We would love to be able to deliver the workshops for free but the artists need to earn an income somehow to survive and without funding it is not possible.

It feels sometimes not that different from the people who negotiate down hard on buying artwork – sure everyone loves a deal but sometimes this makes me wince little and wonder if every day for them at work starts the same way, a negotiation down on their pay.

So where to go now? Keep doing what we do, making things, trying to change perceptions, giving people a chance?  There has to be a change in understanding about the role of an artist, it's not a 9-5 job, it's a badly paid vocation (unless you are one of the lucky ones) but it's an all consuming passion. It's a lifestyle choice that I and others have made.  Will we be able to pay artists what they are worth (that includes all artists, writers, musicians, actors, performers, sound artists,visual artists). My life feels better because of them, does yours?


Founder and Director of jelly

Making Space for Art


Registered Charity 1100730

Jelly is an energetic charity championing the creative arts. We have played a strategic role in Reading’s cultural life since 1993 – enabling art to appear in unexpected places and creating opportunities for people to look on and join in. We believe in the power of the arts to delight, intrigue, challenge and enrich, and we're committed to forming creative alliances and partnerships that encourage art and cultural life to flourish.

7 Responses to How do we survive?

  1. Felicity Ford January 21, 2013 at 2:23 pm #

    I am amazed that people still expect workshops to be free.
    I am a self-employed artist. The recommended daily rate for artists according to Arts Council England is £175 minimum, but it would be incredible if I earned that figure for any of the days I spend working on projects for clients. Reading the guidelines on the Artist Newsletter Website and pricing jobs according to the figures generated by last years' tax return, I should in fact charge £180 per day in order to have an income commensurate with my professional and academic experience. A full time practice led research fellow with a PhD earns about £33,000 per year for example; that is the salary I am qualified to earn as an academic research fellow doing practice-led (art-making) research, but the job market for research fellows is about as competitive and difficult as the job market for well-paid artists job, and I would be delighted if I could successfully earn even half of that income… I am disgusted by the continued obsession with the idea that artists should work for free, and that everything artists do – workshops, exhibitions etc. – should also be free. I think it's amazing that people consistently undervalue the arts, because life would be absolutely rubbish without the artists whose ideas are the very lifeblood of culture.
    I applaud Jelly for everything it does for arts and culture in Reading, but it saddens me that people still expect Jelly workshops to be free, and that none of the people involved seem to make an income commensurate with the value of the work you all do. 
    Huzzah for Jelly! And for everyone who tries to talk down the price of workshops and the price of artworks, just ask yourselves for a second if you would drop the price of your professional services, and how you would feel about doing the things you do as a job and as a vocation for less money than you currently get for it? Art is passion and wonder and fun and culture and all of those things, but it's also a job, and artists need to eat too.
    I take massive heart in reading the manifesto on this website; it is where I go when I am writing the nth funding application, crying because I can't afford to live in the UK, and hating on the fact that my profession is so criminally undervalued. Everyone should read it:
    Let's go for a coffee sometime!

    • jelly January 21, 2013 at 2:51 pm #

      yes, felix – I agree with all that you say and the link is a great one. Let’s catch up soon

  2. Zoe January 21, 2013 at 2:37 pm #

    Well done Suzanne, and Jelly – perhaps change the name…. to Roots….. put em down and don't budge….meanwhile three cheers to what 'you' have achieved.  The pricks in the system don't realize that art saves lives – always has done and always will.  Love xxx Z

  3. Alan Stallard January 21, 2013 at 3:08 pm #

     Well done Suzanne Floss Stallard such a true & forthright message, who ever reads this I hope will really think about not only what you are saying but what you have continually provided for these 20 years for everyone. Perhaps the main pleasure you get from Jelly is knowing how much you have sustained the ART interest not only in Reading but from many miles afar. As in most dedicated visions most only see the finished article & never realise just how much effort, work & sacrifice has gone into the final production. I know you are really thankful to Jelly for the amazing amount of Friends Jelly has bought you, but it just a small part of what you deserve. XX

  4. Tessa Turner January 22, 2013 at 1:20 pm #

    Bravo Suzanne, Bravo Jelly
    Reading would be a MUCH poorer place without people like Suzanne and organisations like Jelly.
    We all need to really think about this.
    Think about this "other" part of our lives, realise we all need "soul food", beauty, art – things to fill our eyes with pleasure, make our hearts soar.
    But, I have to say, that after reading the above words, I still wonder how on earth Jelly survives.
    Thank you Suzanne for your continuing passion and courage and hard work and humour and love and………….

  5. suzanne carson January 26, 2013 at 11:53 pm #

    Hj Suzanne,
    Please keep up your amazing enthusiasm and creativity! Reading  desperately needs it along  with all us creatives out there like you ! I have only dipped my toe into a few events but your idea for 'pop ups' is such a great use of a shameful waste of empty properties.
    You are right being an artist running workshops is a badly paid vocation and it is the passion that keeps us going definitely not the money. I have organised many workshops where I have been the one receiving the lowest wage out of the participating group even though I have organised everything , put in more hours than I have charged for, lost out on material costs, donated personal materials etc etc.
    Just think about all those people who are thoroughly enjoying  what you are doing through your workshops rather than those who have no idea what goes into workshops.  
    Art is hugely undervalued, it improves self esteem, stimulates creative thinking and problem solving. I work with kids who are deemed as' less able' in school but who often show the most amazing skills with their creative ideas and their practical skills. It needs promoting for their sakes.  
    Have you ever been to Norwich? If not you must go sometime. It has the most amazing vibe and the local authority clearly must support artists and culture in the city. Reading needs to take a leaf from their book and support people like you and the Jelly team. I have never seen so many individual shops with artist selling hand made goods etc. The tea shops are so quirky and well I've never seen so many lampshades in one town !!!
    Keep it up and don't budge
    Suzanne C


  1. How do we survive? | Reading Fringe Festival - March 21, 2013

    […] The amazing Suzanne Stallard, Director of Jelly¬†and one of Reading’s most powerful women (as named by the Reading Post) recently wrote a piece about the arts and its survival. Please give it a read. The blog gives us even more reason why we should all get behind the arts in Reading. Click here to read the post. […]

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