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Getting Organised

By: Emily Speed

Advocating better working conditions for artists. Following on from where 'Getting Paid' left off.

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# 1 [15 November 2011]

This blog carries on where Getting Paid left off. Since I started writing that blog two years ago a lot has changed, and happily, I’m now getting paid, well, a bit at least. Getting Organised will be less about my personal journey and more about looking at artists as a group and how artists are advocating better working conditions and organising themselves to effect change. Hopefully by highlighting the good stuff, it might become apparent what kinds of events or actions could act as great models and be replicated by other artists.  In the tradition of Getting Paid, I guess some criticism of poor opportunities may occur from time to time. Hopefully though, I will be able to see these things less as a malicious attack on artists, and perhaps the result of misunderstanding or a lack of thought and planning. I’ll try anyway (no promises).


I’m taking as my starting point that education systems and the way the art world appears from the outside often encourage individualism and aggression between artists. Because of this I think there exists a kind of false consciousness, so that many artists don’t know they’re doing wrong by accepting unpaid work, for example.  It seems there are several areas of the arts where people make a good living from artists (and often their naivety). I think a lack of transparency and the isolation of many artists only serves to their advantage. So, the more talking and sharing we artists do; the better. This blog is my attempt to do my bit.


Another reason to move on from ‘Getting Paid’ is the Sea change that’s happened since the last election. One positive thing (?) that’s come from the austerity measures imposed by the new government is the resistance and collective action. Funding cuts have also highlighted the precarious future of many arts organisations and has perhaps led people to think more carefully about how they are being treated and paid. More of that please.


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Poverty and dignity. I agree with your comment re 15th Nov. But I wonder, what does it take for someone to say no? Enough is enough. I realise my threshold for hiding my poverty is very high. I'm taking a risk doing this, by coming clean you stand out, but you seem to have some understanding, that when you have no money, you can't pay your bills, when you can't pay your bills, food becomes rationed, when food is rationed, travel is limited. You make do and keep silent and smile when you see people. I continue to make art, against a tide of fear, anxiety I respond with activisim. I draw strength from others who are trying to speak up for themselves and many other low paid / no work people and communities, the march on the 30th November in Newcastle gave me strength; hearing nurses, cleaners speaking up for themselves having never spoken up publicly before, artists can also to do this. As the Unions slogans said 'everyone has a right to a decent pension' - should eveyone have a right to a basic income too so that you can live with dignity? whatever your job? How do you carry on feeling in control of your lfe when there is no income? I understand from research that when you have a lack of control re your income that your health is directly affected - see research l in 2011 ooking at health inequalties by Sir Michael Mormot: Becoming involved and active in AIR is a life line to contact with other artist activists who want to tackle such issues, artists are human beings who are still trying to live with dignity, even though it seems we still have to justify our existence to many, we are just like everyone else.

posted on 2011-12-06 by Angela Kennedy

# 2 [17 November 2011]

Ethics & Interns

This event looks really interesting next week - looking at Internships and all the problems they bring along.

Seems pretty pertinent given the whole slave labour/Tesco situation going on with the benefits system.

I hate this, hate the fact that these profit making companies aren't bound by minimum wage legislation and also by the fact that it's presented to the public as an improvement on people doing 'nothing'. It may increase self-esteem to be busy and doing something - agreed, and hopefully some people will get proper jobs afterwards. However, the fact that people who refuse to do this unpaid work may lose their benefits is just horrendous. Why should the taxpayer subsidise companies with shareholders?



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Too true - someone always pays for it somewhere along the line. I had a eureka moment sometime in 2008 (late on I know) when I realised a 'free' project actually cost me £200, which needless to say, I didn't really have. It would be amazing to have some way of tracking expenditure and collating figures for this kind of thing. It may be worth me asking artists if they're willing to reveal what they've spent on specific projects... definitely something to pursue!

posted on 2011-11-17 by Emily Speed

I questioned at the Engage conference in one of the discussion groups containing an interesting set of artists and arts organisers who were addressing on 'The role and status of artists in society' whether anything is really free. In my view, someone or something is always paying for it. Thus - as you mention - the taxpayers are paying through the benefits system for work experience at Tesco. The body subsididing arts organisations is (often double) funding these organisations' free websites that list 'work' for artists and so on. And also, the artist is subsidising the 'free labour/materials, travel expenses, documentation costs' etc when they work unpaid on a project. Free always has a £cost. Should we begin to calculate this 'free' so that it is part of budgets and accountability controls? Can artists work together to ensure they are released from the tyranny of 'free'?

posted on 2011-11-17 by Susan Jones

# 3 [17 November 2011]

More on unpaid Internships - all this just from the Guardian..

Hannah Clements blog:

an oldie, but interesting look at how Uni's could play a role in improving things.

Swiped off google, apologies..

Swiped off google, apologies..

# 4 [23 November 2011]

Bye Ceri.

So Ceri Hand Gallery is leaving Liverpool in early 2012 and setting up shop in London. This came as a big shock to many of us in Liverpool, although we could understand it perfectly at the same time.

In any place there are a series of complex links and relationships, and Ceri is not just a gallerist, but is woven into Liverpool as a whole: being part of Visual Arts in Liverpool, working with John Moores University, generously lending support or advice to local artists and groups like Royal Standard. There's more of course, but that gives you an idea. All of these things add up to a hell of a lot and I haven’t even mentioned credibility yet. Her gallery brought a little piece of the commercial art world (London art world?) to Liverpool and when she is gone there will be none like it. There are great institutions, galleries and artist-led spaces of course, but I have always felt like there’s not much in between. As an artist, especially when I was really starting out in the city, that gap has made things like representation seems far away, if not impossible. Ceri has also been very keen to talk about the gallery-artist relationship and to demystify it a little and, as someone who represents artists and shows at art fairs internationally, she has been pretty unique (in Liverpol).

In the Daily Post article (below) she mentions a ceiling for sales and I guess that feels true of a lot of aspects of art outside of London. That she has done well enough to warrant the move is fantastic, but does it also highlight the limits of a regional city?

On the flip side, the gallery, Lucy the gallery manager and the artists are growing and becoming more successful and it’s easy to see why the move to London is necessary to continue that momentum, I wish them all every success. Happy news that the A Foundation building is to be resurrected – as Camp & Furnace - is exciting and might lessen the blow of losing both A Foundation and Ceri Hand Gallery, partiularly for the Baltic Triangle area of the city.

Steffan Hughes has also written a blog entry about Ceri leaving here:


# 5 [25 November 2011]

Feeling the love.

Twitter is my favourite at the moment. I talk a lot of rubbish but occasionally, really great discussion breaks out and people share things you perhaps wouldn't expect. I'm @speedina if you're not on there already.

Yesterday I was chatting with @rougeit and others about working to commission. He asked "Artists question: should artists ask for references before accepting commissions? #artists #artsfunding"

So the idea of asking employers for references was put out there - the artist is checked out (curators talk too) but it's a bit more difficult for artists to know what they're getting into. Bad commission experiences seemed to be down to lack of communication and support - perhaps because of short staffed or stretched organisations. Artists who joined in (including me) also said that they were responsible to some degree - being dazzled at interview and not asking important questions before committing to projects.

One suggestion that came out of it was the idea of giving organistions a stamp of approval. Rather than shouting about bad experiences, which seems unlikely to do the artist's reputation any good, we thought talking about good experiences would be better. Artists sharing information to save everyone some worry and potential heartache! An online list perhaps - ommissions would be very telling indeed and those really great organisations would be on there.

He nominated Oriel Davies Gallery and Lakeland Arts Trust as great people to work with. Mine were Yorkshire Sculpture Park and Blackpool Council Arts Dept/Grundy Gallery. I'm also working with the Bluecoat at the moment and the curator there has been brilliant.

Anyone else care to add a great experience/organisation here?

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Thanks Ros. It's a very good point you make about mixed experience. The place on Westbourne really has been quite unique - I've never heard of such extreme experiences from one place. I guess I didn't make the difference explicit as it seems so fundamental to me, but I class experiences with art organisations and experience while paying for a service as utterly different beasts.

posted on 2011-11-27 by Emily Speed

CoExist,, Phoenix Brighton and have all been really good for me. With that was alsways our intention. The difficulty in gold stamping is that some artists may have good experiences with some really doubtful organisations such as one in Westbourne Grove which on the whole I have heard extremely negative stories about. As a result the positives could cloak the realities of such a venture. I guess it could be a points system. Having gone to the ALISN conference about artist led organisations and worked with a lot of these spaces,they tend to be the winners, not commercial art organisations or vanity projects

posted on 2011-11-27 by Rosalind Davis

Thanks for your contributions! So nice to hear about good things. regarding financial support Tim - other things are often worth much more, as long as you feel valued and happy. Some great comments on twitter too - Bluecoat has some serious fans out there. Also mentioned; Artsway, Wysing and Cove Park.

posted on 2011-11-27 by Emily Speed

I had a positive experience with the Ovalhouse theatre, they were supportive and handled the publicity well and put me on their website. There was no financial support, but this was made clear from the start and I could not have wished for a better start to being an artist.

posted on 2011-11-25 by Tim Ridley

This is a great idea - really positive! My stand-out best experience is not a UK-based organisation (and when I think about it, they stand out mainly because of the lack of active badness), which is a bit concerning. That said, I'm not massively experienced in working with organisations, & recent experience has rather put me off applying for stuff. I am wondering, though, if organisations have a one-size-fits-all method of treating artists, or if the experience can differ depending on the individuals involved, the project specifics, etc.? An organisation that is great to one artist might conceivably be less so to another...

posted on 2011-11-25 by Jo Moore

# 6 [25 November 2011]

This is a section from a press release by Neelie Kroes, Vice-President of the European Commission responsible for the Digital Agenda

Who feeds the artist ?

"1000 euros a month is not much to live off. Often less than the minimum wage. But most artists, and not only the young ones at the early stages of their career, have to do so. Half the fine artists in the UK, half the "professional" authors in Germany, and, I am told, an incredible 97.5% of one of the biggest collecting society's members in Europe, receive less than that paltry payment of 1000 euros a month for their copyright works. Of course, the best-paid in this sector earn a lot, and well done to them. But at the bottom of the pyramid are a whole mass of people who need independent means or a second job just to survive.

This is a devastatingly hard way to earn a living. The crisis will only make this worse, as public and private spending on arts, so often seen as discretionary, feels the squeeze. This must be a worry to one of the most valuable and unique sectors in Europe: it is certainly a worry to me.

We need to go back to basics and put the artist at the centre, not only of copyright law, but of our whole policy on culture and growth. In times of change, we need creativity, out-of-the-box thinking: creative art to overcome this difficult period and creative business models to monetise the art. And for this we need flexibility in the system, not the straitjacket of a single model. The platforms, channels and business models by which content is produced, distributed and used can be as varied and innovative as the content itself."

# 7 [27 November 2011]

This open letter to artists was written by Sara Wookey, a dancer, after she auditioned for Marina Abramovich at MoMA L.A. It's been doing the rounds on twitter and facebook, so apolgies if you've already seen it.

In it she describes what was wrong with the working condiditons offered and why it was she refused to participate.

"Artists of all disciplines deserve fair and equal treatment and can organize if we care enough to put the effort into it. I would rather be the face of the outspoken artist then the silenced, slowly rotating head (or, worse, “centerpiece”) at the table. I want a voice, loud and clear."

I think it's amazingly clear message about everything that is wrong with accepting bad working conditions whilst also acknowledging that artists often feel forced to accept work on other people's terms. The last paragraph is just ace.

"I rejected the offer to work with Abramović and MOCA—to participate in perpetuating unethical, exploitative and discriminatory labor practices—with my community in mind. It has moved me to work towards the establishment of ethical standards, labor rights and equal pay for artists, especially dancers, who tend to be some of the lowest paid artists.

The time has come for artists in Los Angeles and elsewhere to unite, organize, and work toward changing the degenerate discrepancies between the wealthy and powerful funders of art and the artists, mainly poor, who are at its service and are expected to provide so-called avant-garde, prescient content or “entertainment,” as is increasingly the case—what is nonetheless merchandise in the service of money. We must do this not because of what happened at MOCA but in response to a greater need (painfully demonstrated by the events at MOCA) for equity and justice for cultural workers.

I am not judging my colleagues who accepted their roles in this work and I, too, am vulnerable to the cult of charisma surrounding celebrity artists. I am judging, rather, the current social, cultural, and economic conditions that have rendered the exploitation of cultural workers commonplace, natural, and even horrifically banal, whether its perpetrated by entities such as MOCA and Abramović or self-imposed by the artists themselves.

I want to suggest another mode of thinking: When we, as artists, accept or reject work, when we participate in the making of a work, even (or perhaps especially) when it is not our own, we contribute to the establishment of standards and precedents for our cohort and all who will come after us."

Add: This article highlights how Yvonne Rainer also got involved with the Abramovic situation.

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Hi Sam, Thanks very much for taking time to read my blog! Glad you're finding it useful - that's always nice to know. The full working conditions she says were this - "I was expected to lie naked and speechless on a slowly rotating table, starting from before guests arrived and lasting until after they left (a total of nearly four hours. I was expected to ignore (by staying in what Abramović refers to as “performance mode”) any potential physical or verbal harassment while performing. I was expected to commit to fifteen hours of rehearsal time, and sign a Non-Disclosure Agreement stating that if I spoke to anyone about what happened in the audition I was liable for being sued by Bounce Events, Marketing, Inc., the event’s producer, for a sum of $1 million dollars plus attorney fees. I was to be paid $150. During the audition, there was no mention of safeguards, signs, or signals for performers in distress, and when I asked about what protection would be provided I was told it could not be guaranteed. What I experienced as an auditionee for this work was extremely problematic, exploitative, and potentially abusive."

posted on 2011-12-18 by Emily Speed

Hi Emily, The information on your blog is fascinating, and invaluable, especially to those of us just starting out and thinking about our future careers in Fine Art. With reference to what you've mentioned here, I'd be interested to know what the expected working conditions were that Sara Wookey was objecting to.

posted on 2011-12-17 by Sam Brightwell

# 8 [28 November 2011]

This looks interesting, ACE have published a guide for organisations on internships with Creative Cultural Skills.

Recommendations include: an open, transparent and fair recruitment process

Internships being well planned and based on a wider internship and equal opportunities policy

Offering meaningful experiences and responsibilities that contribute to the aims of the organisation

and especially this *** Paying interns at least national minimum wage*****

# 9 [29 November 2011]

AIR Council elections are open so please make sure you vote if you're an AIR member. My email from Popularis went to my junk mail so do check if you don't think you've had one yet.

Also - ahem - I'm nominated for it and would really appreciate your vote :D

You can read a bit about all the candidates here:

# 10 [30 November 2011]

Watching the strikes with interest (online) today. I just thought I would repeat something my husband said last night. He has an eviable ability to see all sides of things and be extremely level headed and articulate in discussion. I wish I could say the same about myself!

In conversation, his mum was saying she didn't see why the nurses deserved great pensions when other - private sector - workers didn't get the same. She's not against nurses per se, but from a personal point of view, with a husband who receives bugger-all pension, she struggles with it.

Dan turned it around and asked whether she couldn't see it from the other point of view; it's not bad that the nurses get more than some people, but it's great that nurses get that, and it would be better if everyone else did too. I guess he's pointing out that the annoyance is misdirected, and that it's not strikers that are at fault but the massive imbalance of wealth. Maybe that sounds obvious to everyone else - but it made me think.

Same with artists? Frustration shouldn't be directed at other artists but to somewhere more constructive, like getting stuck in and finding ways to improve things. Wise owl. I shall keep taking notes from him...

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Emily Speed

Emily Speed is an artist based in Liverpool.