How many times have you been asked to pay for submission to a gallery? Or pay for "hanging" fees? Or for marketing materials? Or for inclusion into a book? It costs a lot for someone to be an artist! The economic model is really not very good. Which is why we usually say that being an artist is driven more by passion than by economics. Is it possible to carve out a living wage for your work as an artist? Maybe. Here are some suggestions from Alexis Clements of Hyperallergic:
1. Traditional Labor Organizing and Contracts
Artists’ guilds morphed into labor unions as
part of larger national cross-industry labor struggles, many of which
still exist today. Their primary mode of ensuring that members get the
money and services is through standardized contracts and working to
create closed or mostly closed shops (i.e.
only union members can work in certain places) or preventing union
members from working in non-union establishments. Many musicians,
actors, writers, people working in film, people working behind the
scenes on stage, and some museum employees are in unions today. You can
view a sample/standard Actors Equity Contracts for union members here.
2. Lobbying / Professional Associations
Organizations such as the League of Independent Theater New York
(LITNY), are focusing on influencing local politics by lobbying politicians directly. Their list of political demands
mainly on organization-level needs, but they are explicit in seeking
affordable housing for working artists, and their demand for affordable
facilities would have a direct impact on rehearsal costs which are often
born by individual artists working across theater, dance, and music.
3. Certifications / Change from Within
Detail from W.A.G.E. survey results. View the full survey report here.
One group that has received a lot of interest in the US over the past couple years is Working Artists and the Greater Economy (W.A.G.E.).
Founded and led by artists, W.A.G.E. has adopted a somewhat novel
model. Rather than work from the outside in, they are proposing a certification program whereby
willing visual arts and performance organizations would agree to abide
by “ethical payment practices,” which amount to a custom artist fee and
production support structure based on the budget and level of activity
of each organization. This model has similarities to the work of the
Canadian group CARFAC, which managed to get minimum payments to
visual artists whose work is being exhibited written into copyright law
in the 1980s. But currently W.A.G.E.’s version relies on organizations
opting in or large groups of artists refusing to exhibit in spaces that
don’t have certification.
4. Revolutionary Demands
fourth method of seeking access to money and services, or, perhaps more
importantly, decision-making power, is to put forth a set of
revolutionary demands. One of the most well-known examples of this in
the US in the 20th century was the Art Workers’ Coalition (AWC). Though it was short-lived, operating under that banner between 1969 and 1971, the AWC did put together a compelling list of demands that
not only addressed payment to artists for use of their work, but also
things like one-third representation of artists on all museum board,
representation of artists of color on staff and in galleries, equal
representation of female artists, and perhaps most revolutionary, the
decentralization of museums.
5. Going Off the Grid / Alternative Economies
From cover of OWS Arts & Labor publication. Download the full publication here.
With a similarly revolutionary viewpoint, Occupy Wall Street’s Arts & Labor working group
has, over the past two years, been engaging in serious questions about
how to rethink and rebuild the contemporary relationship between art and
labor. Ultimately, according to the OWS Principles of Solidarity,
they hope to “imagine a new socio-political and economic alternative
that offers greater possibility of equality.” And so, Arts & Labor
is committed to looking at alternatives to capitalism that don’t always
associate dollars with labor. Their latest publication, What Do We Do Now: Arts & Labor’s Alternative Economies Resource Guide for Living in New York City,
is filled with links to organizations or resources focused on
everything from affordable housing and squatting to free and alternative
health care to worker cooperatives and barter networks.
It’s All in the Mix
reality is, of course, that these five categories are not really
distinct or separate — they intertwine and overlap, and each relies on a
viewpoint that believes the opaque and laissez-faire realities of the
current arts landscape are not only detrimental to individual artists,
but that they are part of a larger system that is detrimental to all
people. In the coming months I’ll be doing more research on these ideas
and others and in September will publish a follow-up piece with more
specific examples of models that are working for US artists.
Alexis will be facilitating a class on this subject, titled Rights, Demands, and Radical Reimaginings: Art and Labor in the US at the Hyperallergic offices starting August 27. Registration info is here. Hyperallergic readers can get $15 off with the code HYPER.