What are the solutions for fairer working conditions?

According to the report Fair enough? Published after a meeting with 173 experts in April 2022, International Network for Contemporary Performing Arts (IETM) continues to think about it equality and working conditions in the performing arts. The network wants to contribute to the introduction of fairer and more sustainable practices that require “unlearning a lot of old ways”. developing alternatives to the system that currently governs the modalities of artistic work. To this end, he invited three academics – who are also engaged in artistic practice – to provide their analysis of the roots of artists’ uncertainty and to suggest principles or concrete ideas for a more sustainable future. Their contributions are collected in a publication called Which side are you on? Ideas for achieving fair working conditions in the arts.

Associate Professor in the Arts Management Program at the University of Buffalo, Katja Praznik place at the center of the problem recognition of a work of art as a genuine work. Unless this intervenes, artists will not be able to demand a decent and legitimate income. “The socially dominant attitude,” he writes, “is to regard what artists do as the result of creativity, artistic talent, or genius, rather than work.” This belief makes work invisible, ultimately economic and social devaluation this makes an insufficient reward acceptable. The academic notes that the image of an artist who carries out his art because of love or the need for personal expression still remains. In addition, the conditions for the implementation of their activities (free), maintenance of artists isolate this prevents them from effectively fighting for their rights. Katja Praznik is therefore a supporter of collective organization and radical action. “I believe that we need a mass union of united and organized artists, so that with the mass of their bodies and voices they can empty your theater stages, your walls and empty museums and galleries, your silent radios and halls. your loudspeakers, dark cinemas, empty shelves and dull, uneventful streets,” he says.

Philosopher, playwright and performance theorist who has written extensively on the fragmentation of labor and its relationship to precarious working conditions in the performing arts Bojana Kunst, is the focus here Difficulties with the concept of “project”. Most artists are really forced to think of their work as an endless series of projects, often working on several at once and always preparing for what’s to come. If it seems difficult to present an alternative to this situation, Bojana Kunst still calls for organization. cultural policy but no longer on single works or projects supporting the creation of durable and sustainable infrastructures. This would mean an end to the constant demand for new production, improved productivity and growth. The report has already highlighted one imperative Fair enough?.

A third point of view is even more singular Hans Abbing, founder of the visual arts sector, economist and professor emeritus of the sociology of art at the University of Amsterdam. It actually fits against the drawn ideal previously by their colleagues, that is, it allowed artists to devote all their time to their practice and build a long career. Hans Abbing relies on one observation to justify his analysis: the emergence of a category of artists classified as “new bohemians”, who accept the risk of artistic endeavors and “celebrate the do-it-yourself culture”. The impermanence of their activities is of little concern to them, as they do not necessarily aim for full-time or lifelong artistic practice. In addition, Hans Abbing claims, many young artists are developing today “hybrid artistic experience”. “He explains that they hold a second job where they collaborate with non-artists and contribute artistically to a non-artistic product. This occurs in the context of a trend the continuous blurring of the boundaries between art and non-art, between art and creative practices, between an artist considered a professional and another considered an amateur, and between established art institutions and online platforms that promote creative work and reach the public. “What if we accept that many careers in the arts are not sustainable and that this is not the end of the world? “says Hans Abbing.

At the end, Which side are you on? Ideas for achieving fair working conditions in the arts shows that calls for fairer practices and more sustainable working conditions, as well as emerging initiatives (experiments with artists’ salaries or universal income schemes) certainly necessary but not sufficient. Finding new ways to counter the fragmentation of artists’ work, affirming full-time and long-term careers questions certain foundations of the ecosystem performing arts. To save oneself from isolation by uniting in this approach all citizens who aspire to a more just, diverse, ecological and sustainable society.

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

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