What solutions for fairer working conditions?

According to the report Fair Enough? published following a meeting in April 2022 with 173 professionals, the International network for contemporary performing arts (IETM) keep meditating equality and working conditions in the performing arts. Introducing fairer and more sustainable practices that require “unlearning a lot of old ways”, the network wants to contribute to developing alternatives in the system that currently governs the modalities of artistic work. To this end, he invited three academics – who have in common that they are also engaged in artistic practice – to convey their analyzes of the roots of artists’ specificity and to indicate principles or concrete ideas for a more sustainable future. Their contributions are collected in a publication entitled Which side are you on? Ideas for Achieving Fair Working Conditions in the Arts.

Associate Professor in the Arts Management Program at the University at Buffalo, Katja Praznik place at the heart of the problem recognizing the work of art as an authentic work. As long as this is not interfered with, artists cannot claim a decent and legitimate income. “The dominant social attitude, he writes, amounts to considering what artists do not as work but rather as creation, the result of an artistic talent or genius. This belief makes invisible the work, resulting in economic and social devaluation it makes inadequate pay acceptable. The image of the artist practicing his art out of love or out of a need for personal expression persists, the academic said. In addition, the exercise conditions of their activity (in freelance), keep artists in isolation which prevents them from effectively fighting for their rights. Therefore, Katja Praznik advocates collective organization and radical action. “I believe that we need a mass union of united and organized art workers who, with their bodies and their voices, can empty your theater stages, your walls and auditoriums. empty museums and galleries, your silent radios and loudspeakers, your dark theaters, your empty shelves and your dull, untidy streets,” he said.

Having written extensively on the fragmentation of labor and its link to precarious working conditions in the performing arts, the philosopher, playwright and performance theorist Bojana Art, focused here on difficulties associated with the notion of “project”. Most artists are actually forced to consider their work as an endless series of projects, often working on several at the same time and always preparing for the next ones. If it seems difficult to provide an alternative to this situation, Bojana Kunst nevertheless calls for the organization of cultural policies no longer centered on single works or projects, but supporting the creation of sustainable and sustainable infrastructures. This means an end to the constant need for new production, improved productivity and growth. An imperative already highlighted in the report Fair Enough?.

Even more singular is the third perspective brought by Hans Abbing, creator in the visual arts sector, economist and professor emeritus in the sociology of art at the University of Amsterdam. It really fits against the drawn ideal before his colleagues, that is, allowing artists to devote all their time to their training and build a long career. To justify his analysis, Hans Abbing relies on one observation: the emergence of a category of artists, qualified as “new bohemians”, who accept the risk of artistic endeavor and “celebrate a culture of do- it-yourself”. The unsustainable nature of their activity is of little concern to them, precisely because they do not aim for a full-time or lifelong practice of the art. Furthermore, argues Hans Abbing, many young artists today are developing “a hybrid artistic practice”. “They occupy, he explains, a second job where they collaborate with non-artists, while making artistic contributions to a non-artistic product. This trend takes place in a context of continuous blurring of boundaries between art and non-art, between art and creative practices, between an artist considered a professional and another considered a novice, and between recognized artistic institutions and online platforms that promote creative work and reach public. “What if we accept that many art careers are unsustainable, and it’s not the end of the world? said Hans Abbing.

In conclusion, Which side are you on? Ideas for Achieving Fair Labor Conditions in the Arts shows that the called for fairer practices and more sustainable working conditions, as well as the resulting initiatives (experiments on artists’ salaries or general income methods), are certainly necessary but not sufficient. Finding new ways to resist the fragmentation of artists’ works, to prove full-time work and a long-term career thus presupposes question some ecosystem foundations performance art. To also extract oneself from self-segregation by associating with this approach all citizens who seek a more just, diverse, ecological and sustainable society.

The outline of this publication was presented on January 25, 2023 at the Innovate Cultural Policy event organized by IETM. Replay available here.

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