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I’m quoted in this article by David Trigg, about the current trend for arts organisations to replace paid invigilators with volunteers. What’s not mentioned in the article is that these jobs are not just important employment opportunities for people – mainly artists – in difficult times, but jobs with a sympathetic employer. Artists don’t need to have paid employment in the arts, but it is desirable because arts employers understand artists need to take time off for residencies, installing shows and the like.

Making the case for adopting these models is like advocating a race to the bottom. It may solve an immediate problem, but it creates much larger longer term problems for the arts ecology as a whole by establishing a culture that is difficult, if not impossible, to overturn.

In my experience, when faced with a problem like this there are two positions; the first position looks at a situation and the circumstances that have created it and asks, how can we best work within these circumstances to achieve our goals. The second position looks at the situation and the circumstances that produced it and asks, how we can we change these circumstances? The first group of people, tend to dismiss the second group of people as idealistic and congratulate themselves on their grounded real-world view. The thing is, political activism is necessarily idealistic – it’s about daring to imagine that a better world is possible in impossible circumstances and setting about campaigning and pressurising to change what those circumstances are.

Without the pressure of the second group, the first group – whether they agree in principle or not – will happily go along with the pleasurable flow of ideology, rather than set about the more difficult task of challenging it.

When I posted this article on facebook, several people private messaged me to support my views and thank me for speaking out. They did not want to comment publicly because they were afraid of the impact it could have on their careers. This and the anonymous comments in the article itself are indicative of a very unhealthy culture established within the arts. When the people who take and implement these decisions are also the people who provide opportunities artists feel disempowered to voice their opinions.

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