THIS IS OUR REAL JOB
We can see how the collapse o the economy is aecting ev-eryone. Something must be done. Let’s talk. No, it can’t wait.Things are bad. We have to work things out. We can only do ittogether. What do we know? What have others tried? What ispossible? How do we talk about it? What are the wildest possi-bilities? What are the pragmatic steps? What can you do? Whatcan we do?We know that larger numbers o people nd them-selves increasingly shut out o the American “promise” o wealthand security. The majority o committed and practicing artistshave long given up these expectations in avor o having thereedom to pursue their work. We’ve all made sacrices or ourtime, our work, and our own dreams. Let’s ace it – being an art-ist in the United States is dicult. Hell, just keeping your headabove water is harder or an increasing number o Americans,artists or not. Federal unemployment numbers are constructedin such a way as to mask the real human toll and misery o joblessness in the U.S. The ocial number hovers around 10%.We’re being told to get used to it, but we would rather exploreideas or reworking the economy to benet everyone. Whereis the discussion about how to sustain our entire country andnot just our banks, corporations, and those who are privilegedenough to be in the top 10% o our “earners”?The deeply irresponsible and criminal activities o themen and women who wreaked havoc on the global economy,ushering in the Great Recession (or whatever you want to callit) have caused untold hardship or people already scraping by.Bring us their heads! Or at least take their bonuses to und thearts, education, and health care.Things have become demonstrably worse or artistsand arts organizations. A 2008 report rom the National Endow-ment or the Arts tells o an astounding 63% increase in artists’unemployment rom 2007 to 2008. The public discourse aboutunding or creative projects is oten limited to chatter aboutlarge-sum prizes unded unsteadily by oundations, commercialentities, or amily trusts. Want to be an artist? Join a reality showand viciously compete or the title o “Art Star” while havingyour every move be documented or six weeks in the hopesthat your witty bon mots and camera-riendly pretty ace willresult in a one-time cash bonus. Another option – compete withyour colleagues and riends or smaller and smaller grants (aslong as the government, the non-prot organizations, and theacademic system continues to be able to raise unds rom theirown sources).Where are the large-scale ideas that depend uponAmerican ingenuity rather than competition? When did und-ing the arts and the people that make them become optional?Why is visual art, which can be understood as a basic ounda-tion or human communication, not unded as an integral parto our lives as Americans? Why don’t we think being an artist isa “real job”?We can optimistically point to times in the past whenthings were more hopeul and better or artists and arts institu-tions. For example, the Works Progress Administration’s Fed-eral Arts Program once had money and was empowered to hireartists to take photographs, make murals, write stories, com-pose poems, and document the tremendous times the countrywas going through. Federal unding employed and nurturedsome o the greatest American artists: Dorothea Lange, Langs-ton Hughes, Ben Shahn, Walker Evans, Zora Neale Thurston,Thomas Hart Benton, and many others. It let us with tremen-dous public works, glorious murals, and a sense o strength andabundance that should be reclaimed out o the ashes o dirtycapitalist shenanigans. However, this program was only possibleater much pressure rom the Let, rom unions, and rom artiststhemselves. It also worked because o leadership that carriedout a vision that the ree market could not harbor – nor wouldit tolerate or long. The inrastructure that sustained programslike the Federal Arts Program was completely dismantled.We can also see ourselves at the bottom o a down-ward spiral that started with Ronald Reagan’s election. The vi-cious greed and racism that propelled the “Reagan Revolution”culminated in last year’s massive global nancial collapse, thelogical conclusion o the Reagan administration’s toxic ideologi-cal blend o business deregulation and trickle down uck-you-nomics (two perilous antasies that we see or what they are).Artists were easy targets and tools in the culture wars Reaganand his allies unleashed to dismantle the New Deal and GreatSociety eorts at wealth redistribution and economic parity.We’ve oten been amazed at the act that so many students andyounger artists have no idea what kinds o great things receivedgovernment unding pre-Culture Wars and beore the neuteringo the National Endowment or the Arts. One can trace the ori-gins o early encouragement or even a vast genre as Video Artthrough looking at the record o NEA unding in the 1970s.Capitalism works really really well – or a limitednumber o people. With tighter constraints on business andwealthy people, the number o people who can sustain them-selves increases. Take away the constraints and less people ben-et. More o us can see this clearly now. It is sad that it takessuch a big crisis to get people to reconsider the “status quo”.We are in a moment very much like the Great De-pression. Unortunately, we cannot depend upon the creationo governmental programs, the learning institutions, museums,and archives, or even basic social planning to help ease the situ-ation in the U.S. or artists. According to a report made in 2006by the Economic Policy Institute, a nonprot Washington, D.C.based think tank, the top 5% o income earners in the UnitedStates own 60% o the average U.S. household net worth. Fur-thermore, according to
Recent Trends in Wealth Ownership
(a bookand research series by Edward N. Wol o New York University’sEconomics department), a ull 20% o the U.S. population ownsnegative nancial wealth. That means that 20% o us, artists,proessors, students, directors o museums, security guards, andotherwise actually live in debt. While many o us contribute tothe struggle o American existence and create art that carriesmeaning and hope or all, our lives are still privy to the whimso the top 5% earners – who eectively make decisions or allo us through their daily economic and cultural choices. Manyo those top 5% are on the board o directors or both corpora-tions and cultural institutions. Is it no surprise that our majormuseums increasingly are using corporate sponsorship to leadtheir programming and name their galleries? Is it any surpriseat all that even the language o art discourse is being invaded bybusiness terminology?For ar too long, the rhetoric and logic o the mar-ket has dominated the production o discourse and livelihoodsaround art. Letting the market decide, as Reagan, Milton Fried-man, and other ghosts o capital past cried, has drastically lim-ited what we think art is and can be in our society. We have seenhow quickly the commercial market collapsed, hurting largenumbers o people. The commercial art market in the UnitedStates has hemorrhaged gallery ater gallery. The focks in thestables have been turned loose into the wilds o uncertainty andworry that the rest o us live in as normalcy. There will be nobailout or economic triage to save the galleries. The nancialcollapse has put a big crack in the hegemony over resources anddiscourse that the commercial system has long enjoyed. It isnow even harder to see success in the speculative art market as aviable option or most artists, though the dictates o the marketare still what gets passed o as curriculum or an MFA at mostuniversities.Universities continue to crank out masters o ne artswho have next to no possibility o getting gainul employmentand little to no role in creating uture employment outside thealready tiny pool o highly coveted tenure track positions. I you are an educator, we challenge you to use your privilege andyour security to improve things or your students and the rest o us. I you are an adjunct teacher, we encourage you to make itdicult or your university to continue exploiting you. Union-ize. Walk out. At least make sure to milk every resource youcan, preerably to enable and supplement educational modelsthat happen outside o these institutions. Scan those rare andout o print library books and periodicals and put ‘em online.Check out A/V equipment and use it to put on ree events oreveryone. Get as many guest lecturers paid through your class-es as you can. Bring the visiting out-o-town lecturers to anextra event space and encourage them to do a bonus talk orpeople who aren’t clued in to academic calendars around town.Sow dissent. Teach the brave truth o poverty rather than thesniveling, competitive lie o the Top 5%. Make everyone’s paypublic knowledge – demand equity or all o us who createthe next generations o artists and thinkers. It is time or someleveling and accountability, even or you progressives in the artschools.Now is a perect moment to push or new ways o doing things, developing better models, and to question com-mercial orms o art making and the commodication o humancreativity and signicance. It is also an excellent moment tolook backwards at old models that might be ripe or rework-ing, and the myriad strategies and support systems that artistshave invented in order to survive creatively and economically.It is a time to ght or a dierent uture, better treatment, anda diminished role or the market in art discourse. Resistanceto the status quo has been minimal. Artists or the most partare hiding and hoping things will get better. We must gather,pool knowledge and resources, agitate, question, conront thissystem and make alternative models using the creativity thatwe reserve or other kinds o artistic production in more stabletimes.This newspaper asks us all to consider how to use thismoment to do several things: to work or better compensation,to get opportunities to make art in diverse and challenging set-tings, and to guide art attitudes and institutions, on all levels, inmore resilient directions. It is also an examination o the powerthat commercial practices continue to wield and the adverseeects this has had on artists, education, and our collective cre-ative capacity.We have ocused our attention and eorts on theUnited States, though an international edition is needed, asthere are no longer discrete nation-based economies. We leavethat to others to take on. The struggle in the U.S. is a largeenough starting point. The dominant discourse in this coun-try pays very little attention to the massive numbers o peopleworking outside the commercial centers o production. Thisgives a alse sense o the complexity, diversity, and regional di-erences that are readily ound when one just looks, asks, andpays attention.This paper culls together writings rom artists, cura-tors, critics and theorists, rom across the United States andPuerto Rico. Contributors were asked to refect on a range o topics: the country’s economic situation, how conditions arein their locations, what they are willing to ght to change, andmore. Included are historic examples o artists’ projects, initia-tives and other eorts to nd money or their work or to createbroader inrastructural support or others. We called upon ournetworks or contributions but you might have a dierent net-work than us. Please read this paper and share it with others.Make copies and make an exhibition out o it. Use it as the basiso a discussion. Share it with your classroom.Finally, check out www.artandwork.us or more writ-ing, images, and ideas that didn’t make the print edition. Thereare places there or you to share your thoughts and ideas andconnect with other artists, teachers, students, arts administra-tors, curators, preparators, interns, and others. We would loveto get your eedback and hear about the conversations that thisproject has instigated. How are you doing? How are you sus-taining your artwork? This is the moment to assert our prin-ciples, redene our core values, and help each othercontinue to make great work.