We want to hear about your experiences of working conditions in culture and/or the arts

We want to hear about your experiences of working conditions in culture and/or the arts

For the past few months we have been exploring our own conditions and
experiences of working within culture and/or the arts, and are interested to  hear from others:

  • What are your experiences of culture as labour?
  • How, where and when is what you do work or not/work?
  • How are these marked by precarity and insecurity?

We are seeking examples of peoples’ experience of any of the above in culture and/or the arts to inform a public workshop in Transmission on 9th March 2013.

Examples will be available online and, to ensure confidentiality, people are asked to use pseudonyms where appropriate so that individuals cannot be identified. To safeguard confidentiality administrators may amend blog posts.

The examples would also, along with our own, inform a discussion among workshop participants. For this they may be shortened.

Examples can be submitted anonymously using the form below: if you would like us to be able to contact you please include your email address, or put contact details in the message (these will not be made public).

You can also email it to contact@strickdistro.org.

Please let us know if you are willing to have your experience published online. If you choose not to have it published online your experience would then be included as workshop material. All names and contact details will be removed to keep them anonymous for both online and workshop use.

This public workshop is organised by people involved in Co-research: subjectivities and conditions of culture as labour, an on-going research enquiry held in Transmission since October 2012. The Co-research is part of knowledge is never neutral, a series of projects organised by The Strickland Distribution (September 2012 – June 2013) within and outside the gallery space.

[contact form no longer active]

7 Responses to We want to hear about your experiences of working conditions in culture and/or the arts

  1. It’s so difficult to tell whether I have lived a life doing frequently unpaid work as a writer, performance artist and musician since the mid-1980s from therapeutic necessity, from sheer egotism or from some kind of probably misguided desire to raise the consciousness of humanity.

    Poor working conditions have included not even being offered bare travel expenses, huge bar profits and only a cut of door money to musicians, harassment from security staff in music venues and galleries, harassment from police over content of work being possibly obscene, contributing to books and records and not receiving a free copy never mind payment. In more recent years the widening assumption that we all do this primarily for money has contributed to worsening working conditions for cultural producers – try explaining to a DWP employee that despite having books out and being in magazines you are not earning anything like a living from this and need help!

    It certainly is precarious and insecure, but it’s nothing new and has been like this for centuries.

    (Willing to have this online but will stay anonymous)

  2. Thoughts from an emerging practitioner:

    Precarity and insecurity

    The nature of making work as an emerging practitioner is one of extreme precarity – ‘networks’ become of immediate importance. How new networks are formed, how existing networks operate, and how the emerging practitioner becomes established within these networks are the key questions that present themselves.
    A key distinction between the kinds of ‘available’ networks becomes apparent fairly quickly.

    1) Self-initiated networks/peer-driven networks
    2) Established ‘centralised’ networks

    The latter supports, enables, and more importantly produces the former.

    Both of these ‘enablers’ are extremely precarious for an emerging practitioner in (a) their contingency on others (non-self-sufficiency), and (b) their tendency to channel practice.

    My suspicion is that the former is a product of the latter, in that the precarity and scarcity of opportunity for the creation of work outwith a pre-existent or emergent network is a result of the ‘networkisation’ of the entire top-down system of cultural production. There is no room for Deluzeian/Guitarrian access into this system as the marginal voices are marginalised to a point of zero. The imperative is to ‘tool-up’ into the network or speak in silence. I am not being naive and suggesting that ‘cultural production’ can exist within a vacuum – of course every emerging practitioner is always already interpolated in a network of some form; however, the opportunities for expression outwith a very clearly delineated system of net-working is non-existent: from smaller self-initiated networks to larger, centralised established networks, emerging practitioners are forced into a process of ‘progression through’ rather than any more radical form of cultural production that can operate in an honest subversivity.

    Emerging practitioners as cultural producers share the same characteristics: they are enthusiastic, willing, bursting with ideas, and relatively inexpensive to employ. This puts them in a vulnerable and precarious situation in that they are more often than not at the whim of a network of commissioning support that provides opportunities on a much larger set of cultural imperatives than the individual practitioner has in mind when setting out to make work and hoping to gain a commission. ‘Community engagement’ is the overarching imperative that hegemonises the production of emerging practitioners more than any other. This is in the main due to strictures that are placed upon commissioning bodies, the established ‘centralised’ networks, in order to continue their operations.

    The opportunity for real and actual emerging practice, outside of a hegemony of utility of cultural production, is virtually nil. Thus, emerging practitioners are coerced into a system of employment which is sporadic, itinerant, and extremely precarious; and they are made to believe that that is exactly how artists as cultural producers should be expected to operate. The process of hopping from one project to the next, contorting their practice to the appropriate bidder becomes the norm, and then once they become ‘established’, i.e. have developed a strong enough CV to pick and choose their work, are able to then more neatly and consciously weave themselves into the larger centralised network to continue making work.

    The precarious nature of cultural production is always already inscribed into the system itself as a means of maintaining an intelligent, mobilised workforce who can spread their knowledge and practice for the benefit of communities across the nation.

    Definitions of work or not-work.

    Work is that which you do for someone else.
    Not-work is that which you do for yourself.
    The correct opportunity is to allow work to become not-work whilst still being work.

  3. Well, I’m currently writing a book about the history of drug chemistry and illicit drug labs with a retired senior forensic chemist for the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), and I’ll say this, it’s not easy researching/writing a book while holding down a fulltime job completely unrelated to my artistic pursuits. I would most definitely call what I’m doing art (nonfiction) due to much creative freedom in deciding upon voice, narrative structure, direction of the book (thesis), and even just deciding what information to use from an endless amount of available information.

    Anyhow, I find myself regularly frustrated at not having enough time to write. I find myself increasingly aggravated by the amount of dead time spent in the office and at the same time I feel like all this dead time drains my value as an employee. It’s like my time spent at work is working two-fold against me. Decreasing my value as an artist as well as as an employee.

    It’s pretty much the worst scenario, to be put in a situation that is at once unbelievable generous (getting paid to do nothing) and totally useless (detrimental to my greater goals as an artist).

    But what are you gonna do? Rent = $1625/mo, insurance = $584/mo. You’re pretty much a slave to the facts. The compromise is, move to the middle of nowhere and live for free, but what’s the point of creating art for an audience of zero? I’m generally of the opinion that art doesn’t matter beyond the present. I have very little faith in the infinite prosperity of the human race, in which case our ultimate collapse and retrieval, back into the bang from which we came, negates all meaning and purpose to transcendence. Linear progression is a thoughtful consideration in the millennial scope of things, but ultimately it’s all going up in flames, starting from scratch.

    So the question is, do you live your life for art to make your mark on the progression of human art, or for the sake of your own finite well being. And if it’s for your own well being, then maybe you’d rather just make a comfortable living, have a couple kids, get along with your husband/wife, and call it a lifetime.

    I say do it for yourself, at all costs.

  4. I worked without a contract installing an exhibition for a large publicly funded arts centre. I was owed about £250 for installing part of the show – I had invoiced but received no response, I emailed but again had no response from the person who hired me. I heard that other people, who had worked for longer periods and thus were due larger amounts of money, had similarly not been paid. This continued for three months or so – eventually I emailed the management and copied in the staff member that had hired me. I also called up the office and was eventually paid the money I was owed (although I heard that others had not been paid).

  5. As an art educator and artist, the former usually takes precedence when it comes to sustaining my livelihood. Due to an obscene amount of debt borrowed to finance my art education, I am bound to piece together work to stay afloat. As a teacher, I am paid for my teaching hours. Preparation, outside advertisement, and sometimes materials, are all at the expense of the teaching artist. Arts administration can be slightly more reliable, but managerial salaries at other institutions are likely to be much higher. The trade is being immersed in a community of creative individuals, and utilizing my skills and interests on a day to day basis. It helps to have other practicing artists on the teaching staff to keep me motivated and making new work.

    It feels as if it is all work. Making work informs my teaching, and engaging with my students informs my practice. As much as I would like to think of them as separate, the experiences are interwoven.

    (remain anonymous)

    Why is it that we cannot just simply teach anymore? I chose the teaching profession over 25 years ago because I was really passionate about sharing my subject knowledge with young people. To inspire and to enthuse children to learn about something we love, and to pass on the knowledge are part of the parcel of the profession. There was a time when I could chat to my students after lessons and have a joke and carry on. Nowadays, it is target setting, assessments and more assessments. The latest I have been trained into “thinking” is the notion that students as young as 11 need to have a ”life map” so they know what they want to be and which university they plan to go to in the future. Are we becoming programmed to think so rigidly and so conservatively? What ever happened to childhood fun and “playtime?;” instead, it is this idea of predicted grades, levels and target grades. I am still not convinced of the purpose of it all – and if anything, this creates more pressure not only for the teacher, but also for the child. Albeit a systematic way to summarise a child’s ability – or in some cases, inability, to learn the subject, we have lost, I believe, the true meaning of teaching and how to relate to our students in a human way.

    As a teacher, I have been subjected to several Ofsteds (not too sure what they call it now – a new buzz word has been created), exercise book scrutiny and lesson observations. I can just see my colleagues in France going on strike at the early stages of implementing these methods. The worst thing is when you reach the highest scale as a main scale teacher, you need to get an “outstanding” when you are observed….after over 25 years of teaching, and the changing nature of students’ learning approach, any teacher would be happy with achieving a “good” or “satisfactory” for their lesson observation. I have had a five lesson teaching day, with meetings after work then topped off with a parents’ evening until 8:30 at night. I must say, I am good for nothing when I get home…so is this a “work-life” balance or just bad planning on part of management? It is said that teachers are known to moan about their work, but when I hear of colleagues spending weekends marking essays non-stop or marking for book scrutiny, it’s no wonder that many of our young talented teachers leave within 5 years, or else they go through the burnt-out syndrome…which I have experienced on and off during my career. To top it off, we are now responsible for students’ exam grades and need to show evidence that we have done everything for that student to reach his/her full potential. And if the student does no work and is disruptive, then what? Blame it on the teacher and say that he/she has no class control and is incompetent? I have seen close colleagues being subjected to this kind of treatment…and seen quite a few of them fall by the wayside with depression or nervous breakdowns.
    Where does it leave the teaching profession? I think on its knees because it gets a bad name and bad press. From a teacher’s point of view, we get the brunt of society’s social problems; we get criticism from parents and students, from senior management who tell us we need to work harder, and of course from the government. I still enjoy teaching, but I find the way it has changed a really sad state of affairs. Schools have become a business enterprise – and teachers are expected to jump through hoops when doing their performance management targets. Some objectives are achievable while others are totally unrealistic….who has time to check up on all this? Are we becoming a nation of pen pushers and tick boxes in education? What is important is how we establish positive and nurturing relationships with our students, not being on the firing line for new initiatives and government propaganda. We need to come back down to earth!

  7. Dear Strickland Distribution,

    I’d like to contribute to the co-research by sharing my experience regarding the above three questions.

    1. What are your experiences of culture as labour?
    I worked as a technician for multiple artists at the same time in South Korea for 3-4 years. The most intensive collective labour was brought about in a multi-media works that embraces from immaterial labour such as script-writing and directing to material labour prop-making, etc. The concept of the project was taking a film without pausing the camera-shooting for the entire run time. The shooting would have stopped, once there was NG. As a member of the material labour department of the project, I had to be suffered from unstoppable labour work of carrying different props throughout the project. This showed ind of tabloid edition of the concatenation of different cultural labour in real time, I think.

    I will share more stories whenever I dig my past memory.