On this International Women’s Day, I was dismayed to see a seemingly professionally produced video from a curator promoting their support of what they felt were underrepresented women artists.
They had contacted me last year with an invitation to exhibit. And while I’m used to artist-run spaces and eager, not-yet-established curators not having a big budget, this particular curator asked me to pay her a substantial amount of money to make the exhibition happen. This would mean the exhibition and curator would benefit from my art, my time, my years of experience, my network, and my money. The assumption, I guess, is that I would benefit solely from my association with her and any artists willing to pay to be associated with her.
A month ago I was approached by a curator at an established NPO who was interested in showing my work The Thing. This hand-embroidered piece took a full year to make, requiring the equivalent of a full-time job in hours. This curator did not have a budget to pay for the exhibition of the work, but as an NPO the institution she worked for was required to pay her, the people who would install my work, the people who would promote my work, the people who would provide security for the work, and the people interning, learning how to show work like mine. The work would be both essential to this organisation’s existence and yet so inconsequential nobody had thought to budget anything for the artist who made it. When I pointed this out, she admitted she was also uncomfortable with not paying artists. This organisation has also posted International Women’s Day messages on social media today.
Can we please be clear. Money is political. Not paying artists means that only the most privileged among us get to be artists. It cheapens the art world by narrowing the kind of art that is produced, shown, and seen. It silences voices. When you approach an artist with an opportunity, and the artist will be the only one not being paid, or you approach an artist with an opportunity which requires them to pay you, that is not an opportunity for the artist. It is an opportunity for you. You are not lifting anyone up. You are not contributing. You are exploiting.
Don’t wish us a Happy International Women’s Day. Pay us.
*I’m using IWD as a jump-off point for this blog, as it’s my personal experience of hypocrisy, but it is obviously not limited to this. I have seen art organisations celebrate populations they admit are underrepresented while also quietly, privately, exploiting them.
During my last session with Lucy Day, I shared with her my current Big Question:
How do I make others feel welcome and comfortable in the art world when I so often feel unwelcome and uncomfortable?
As a working-class artist, as an artist who frequently works with vulnerable communities, it’s important to me that I make work that is relevant to people who are not entrenched in the world of contemporary art.
I’m not yet sure if the results of these polls from Twitter help or complicate the question.
Folly for a Flyover (2011) – Assemble
Interview with Sonia Boyce who removed John William Waterhouse’s painting Hylas and the Nymphs as part of her takeover of Manchester Art Gallery
2014 interview with Alistair Hudson
I’m going to start this blog the only way I know how:
- making reference to a timely bit of art news
- and admitting that in 2004 I accidentally ate part of an exhibition