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By: Emily Speed
Advocating better working conditions for artists. Following on from where 'Getting Paid' left off.
# 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.
# 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?
# 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.
# 4 [23 November 2011]
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 - http://www.unionnorth.com/07/camp-furnace-2 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.
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?
# 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.
# 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...