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By: Emily Speed
Advocating better working conditions for artists. Following on from where 'Getting Paid' left off.
# 14 [20 December 2011]
Thanks to everyone who voted for AIR council - I'm very happy indeed to be on board.
I saw this 'opportunity' on twitter today via Lizzie Hughes: http://tinyurl.com/cma3vce
So, the rough facts:
"BEARSPACE is at the centre of the rapidly growing art scene in South East London, providing a platform to show, encourage and promote emerging artists in London. Director Julia Alvarez curates independently, including the Wimbledon MA interim exhibition, Deptford X 10th Anniversary & Play, a survey of play in contemporary art.
Bearspace invites artists of all disciplines to apply for this unique opportunity, with a brief statement, c.v., and 3 images of work to be considered for selection, of which 1 to 3 pieces may be selected for exhibition. Applying is free of charge with a £200 charge if artist is successful, to cover costs including administration, gallery staff and PR over this period. Please note these costs have been highly subsidised by BEARSPACE to support emerging artists aside from our usual programme."
1) This always seemed like a good and credible space. I am confused by this.
2) Targeting emerging artists seems like the easiest and most cynical option - they might be naive and eager enough to find the cash.
3) They should be more honest and offer the space FOR HIRE rather than promoting this as a supported opportunity.
4) This may be heavily subsidised, as they say, however, the gallery should still offer support to help the artist fundraise the cost if they genuinely couldn't find it themselves.
5) If it is so heavily subsidised (support in kind no doubt), why could they not find the last £200? Seems odd.
6) In some ways, having an open call and only charging the successful artist is fairer, but it's not an amount that most people have spare, and it's not cool.
7) How are artists expected to make new work and do it well if they have to pay for their wn time/production as well as the fee.
8) Surely a good and mixed programme would include emerging and more established artists anyway? Why is them supporting 'emerging artists aside from our usual programme' such a special thing to do?
I just don't like this one bit.
# 13 [15 December 2011]
I saw this today and wanted to share it:
It's a funny/deadly serious response to an interview that appeared in Vogue relating to internships. What struck me most was that the designer - who uses interns - defends the fact with the line that it is 'normal' in fashion. I think that hits the nail on the head for most internships; people just think it is normal, that they have to work for free to get on, and the plentiful supply of willing volunteers continues.
Forget what's normal - there IS a minimum wage, it's taking advantage to have interns for nothing for so long, you don't have to do it and what's more, you can write and tell people exactly what's wrong with the situation so they can't plead ignorance.
On that note - regarding writing to people to tell them how things could be, I also wanted to share an email an artist sent following an open call.
The artist's question: is there a fee/production/travel materials project for this open call that requires a site visit and site-specific work?
From the gallery:
Thank you very much for your enquiry! Unfortunately our project does not have a budget for travel and production of artwork, which we expect the artists themseleves cover the cost. However, we will cover all the installation, techinical support, electricity supply and promotion cost. Please see attached with the full brief to get more information. Hope you will participate in our exhibition!
From the artist:
Thank you very much for your response. I was interested to read the project brief; it really does sound like a wonderful project. However, it seems that you are looking for work that responds to the specific site or context (and I prefer to work context-responsively anyway), and I am afraid that without financial support it would be impossible for me to undertake site visits, produce new work for the show and continue to pay my rent and bills! Having worked for cultural and academic organisations in the past, I really do appreciate that budgets are tight; however, contemporary artists do need at least some remuneration for the work that they do and the time that they spend doing it. As an experienced artist and commissioner, I can say that it is not usual for contemporary artists to have to pay for electricity supplies or tech support in venues where they exhibit, and so this is not usually factored in as support in kind.
I wonder if you are aware of the Arts Council's Grants for the Arts scheme? This scheme enables individuals and organisations from all backgrounds to apply for small-to-medium grants towards engaging artistic projects in England. I have used this scheme myself to enable me to pay artists for their work on various projects, and it is incredibly helpful and accessible. The Arts Council are very keen to support and promote the idea that everybody should be paid for their work; in their view (with which I agree), even the smallest amount of investment produces better artwork - and therefore better outcomes for everybody involved. I am sure that, if you wish to work with contemporary artists in the future, the Arts Council would be very interested to support a project that uses contemporary art to engage people not just with art, but with history, too. Here is a link, which I hope will be helpful to you in the future: http://www.artscouncil.org.uk/funding/grants-arts/ Again, it is with regret that I cannot submit a proposal for consideration. I wish you the best of luck and every success with the project.
Perhaps this is a good template to send out next time you find yourself in this situation? Round of applause.
# 12 [12 December 2011]
This year I got shortlisted for a commission and a residency that ended up being awarded to 1) a social enterprise and b) a design agency. They were small/medium to large things – between 2 – 12k, so substantial projects, but not in the intimidating (for me) leagues of some public art budgets. After writing about the Olympic ‘Taking the Lead’ commissions earlier in the year I noticed that a large chunk of those went to production companies and very few to individual artists, which led me to wonder why.
Some ideas about why this may be:
Artists don’t apply in large numbers for really large scale projects as individuals. I am making presumptions and drawing parallels with Dany Louise’s report on arts funding and her findings that many artists simply aren’t applying for funding. Individual artists may lack experience and presume they aren’t able to handle a large commission, especially if they feel they don’t know what it involves.
The work is of a scale that it requires more than one person. Like when artists start having work made for them to keep up with the demand or ambition of the work.
Commissioners are nervous, money is tight. A production company or group of artists possibly represent; experience, ability to handle a large commissions (strength in numbers), something different (hybrid of art/music/technology).
Production companies have paid staff (sometimes) and are able to put together a more impressive tender. Design aspects of companies might mean ideas are more resolved, communicated more easily, are less esoteric and therefore more likely (in the commissioner's eyes) to appeal to wider public than work of one artist.
My question – in increasingly lean times, are artists going to find it even harder to get paid work on offer if they're tendering against well organised, experienced groups and businesses? This may be especially true for recent graduates who'll have less opportunity to gain experience and will lack the track record that commissioners want to see. Maybe artists need to adopt strategies used by larger outfits and utilise those strengths for themselves. This doesn’t necessarily mean working in collaboration, but strong communication and a confidence in what you’re offering. Taking a brief and making it into your project, negotiating the terms until you are happy.
All things that we artists should be doing, but that have more emphasis placed on them in a design education.
I know some will be reading this and are immediately dismissing public commissions, but you should apply and make them what you think they can be. Negotiating – as far as you can – so you can work on your own terms.
Owl Project http://www.owlproject.com/
Sans Façon http://www.sansfacon.co.uk/
Interview with Shauna Richardson: http://www.a-n.co.uk/artists_talking/artists_stories/single/1325304
Artist’s Olympic Commissions in a-n http://www.a-n.co.uk/publications/article/1346879/73718
Those Olympic facts:
East: On Landguard Point – Pacitti Company
East Midlands – Lionheart - Shauna Richardson (individual artist)
London – Bus Tops – 2 lead artists + 4 staff + 2 interns
North east – Flow - Owl Project (3 artists) and Ed Carter (musician and arts producer)
North West – Column - Anthony McCall (individual artist working in NY with a production team)
South East – Boat Project – Lone Twin (performance company)
South West – Nowhere Island – Alex Hartlet (individual artist with expedition team)
West Midlands – Godiva Awakes – Imagineer Productions (producers of large-scale outdoor events/ carnivals/theatre.)
Yorkshire – Leeds Canvas – partnership between Opera North, Northern Ballet Theatre, West Yorkshire Playhouse, Phoenix Dance Theatre, Yorkshire Dance, Leeds Met Gallery and Studio Theatre, Situation Leeds, Leeds City Council, and Leeds Art Gallery - Quay Brothers as lead artists. This one utterly baffles me in terms of ‘Artists Taking the Lead’
Northern Ireland – Nest – Dumbworld Ltd (production company) – They’re currently advertising for a project Manager in case anyone’s interested!
Scotland – Forest Pitch – Craig Coulthard (individual artist)
Wales – Adain Avion - Marc Rees under production company R.I.P.E (Rees International Projects Enterprise)
# 11 [30 November 2011]
The Guardian Culture Professionals Network is hosting a live chat on internships this Friday:
This seems to be a reaction to the ACE advice on internships as well as the recent unemployment statistics.
Milica Lewis (@Lionartprojects on twitter) sent me this link to a blog post about internships - in favour of them - earlier on twitter. It's great to read about her positive experience, but I can't help feeling that applying that good faith to all internships is a bit simplistic.
Besides art organisations there are also commercial galleries, auction houses and other profit making ventures that use interns, not to mention other creative areas such as magazines, television and so on. She's 'not saying this is an ideal situation, but ... I feel it is simply reality for (much of) the arts at the moment' - I can see that small, unfunded arts organisations might be struggling to pay interns, but other areas are not, so it's not about stopping internships, but about making sure they are monitored better and that interns are getting a great experience.
Should be interested. No doubt I'll have a question or two!
# 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...
# 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:
# 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*****
# 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.
# 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."
# 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?