ARTISTS exhibiting as part of Glasgow International, Scotland's largest contemporary art festival, are calling for a culture change that puts an end to the expectation that they will work extra hours for free and pay production costs of art works themselves, to make up shortfalls in funding.

The bi-annual festival, which opened on 18 April and runs until 7 May, hosts 90 contemporary art shows running in 78 venues across the city. It is estimated to have brought in more than £1.6million to the city in 2016.

However according to research done by the In Kind project – a funded piece of work by artists Janie Nicoll and Ailie Rutherford – many professional artists are working for weeks or even months for free in order to prepare, put on and staff their exhibitions throughout the festival. Research shows that the dependence on unpaid work in the sector excludes those from working class backgrounds and negatively impacts on diversity.

The project, inspired both by work done by the Scottish Artists Union and by conversations with artists struggling to work an "unsustainable" level of unpaid hours. It asks festival artists to log their unpaid hours and out-of-pocket festival expenses on its In Kind website.

Data collected so far by In Kind suggests artists have worked an average 137 unpaid hours – or 17 working days – for free in order to deliver on their projects with the total cost of labour and financial outlay for 30 artists alone reaching £142,662.

Rutherford said: "[Two years ago] I spoke to many phenomenal artists who had really reached burn-out and were saying that they couldn't keep doing it - that it was unsustainable. We wanted to lay bare the amount of unpaid work that goes into these festivals. It's not just Glasgow International (GI) –it is across the board in almost all of these big, biannual art festivals in major cities that are considered to be income generators. Very little of that income trickles down the artists."

The project also aims to explore the lack of diversity in the visual arts, which is dominated by white middle-class men, especially at decision-making or commissioning level. Events organised by In Kind include a discussion at Platform, in Glasgow's Easterhouse later today (Sunday) titled Who can afford to be an artist.

Nicoll added: "We know that most artists earn less than £10k a year and only two per cent earn more than £30k. Most professional artists are having to juggle multiple other jobs, or leave the arts and the conclusion that we've got to come to is that it's not a level playing field. If you are offering unpaid work there is only a certain section of society that can take that up."

Their concerns are echoed by a report released earlier this month which revealed less than a fifth of employees working in music, performing and visual arts are from a working-class background. Almost 90 percent of about 2500 respondents said they did unpaid work.

"Established creatives told us stories about doing far more work than could be billed for...perhaps not even making minimum wage for some projects," said Dave O'Brien, research fellow in creative industries at Edinburgh College of Art. "But for young people there is a division that is related to social class. Those who described it as a choice were from more affluent backgrounds. Some of them had invested their own, or family, money, and found that there could be pay-off for their unpaid labour in the form of jobs, shows or sales. Those who come from less affluent classes tend to experience it as just exploitation."

He claimed that as a result much of the public found their experiences were not represented, meaning they struggled to relate to the contemporary art on offer. "The audience for contemporary arts tends to be educated, of high social status and white and those that are producing it broadly match that profile," he added.

Sinead Dunn, president of the Artists Union, said that the In Kind project was a valuable step in making the problem more visible. She added:"I think the first step would be a change in attitude and approach. It won't happen overnight. But I'd like to see institutions realise that this isn't sustainable, especially if they want a truly diverse range of artists in all senses of that word."

Richard Parry, director of Glasgow International, said he welcomed the project claiming the time was right "to listen to artists and practitioners on this important and difficult topic". He added: "We know that GI is only successful because of the artists, curators and organisations who put so much energy, work and time into staging it." Funding is available in a variety of models, though those "committed to self-fundraising" are also admitted to the programme.

"The results of this research may lead to a remodelled structure for the festival in future editions," he added. "We are pleased that the festival can be used as a tool for important research, honest and critical debate, and self-reflection in this way."