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‘Value’

2012 November 22
by honcho

There is a sculpture park in my town. It is a nonprofit 501(c)3 corporation sponsored by public funding. It is governed by a board who select the honchos;  pretty standard stuff.  The administrating/curating  honchos are , as is common, from the arts community.  They recently  hired a ‘composer in residence’ who coordinated an event that solicited music files (in .mp3 format ) from (presumptively) the  layers of his facebook contacts. In his solicitation he asked the musicians to conceptually select a particular sculpture and base their music on it. He installed a wireless transmitter at the site of the parks sculptures and listeners used their own wireless devices (or borrowed some from the park) to listen to the pieces in the vicinity of the sculpture .  Again, pretty standard stuff. (Handel did music for bridges on the Thames).  But nice enough nonetheless.

I take issue with one aspect of this affair.

In the solicitation, the coordinator made no offer to pay the musicians.  Ostensibly the aforementioned administrating/curating honchos, hired by the board, sponsored by the public funds,  did not compel their employee to extend an offer of pay to the musicians.  Whether by ignorance or neglect,  the deed is done. The music was provided. The audience circulated and heard it. The event was remarked. Everybody reveled in the moment of bonhomie, then packed the kids back in the minivan and went home happy.

But the musicians did not get paid.  Nobody thought it was de rigeur to compensate them for the art they created.

I know a couple of the musicians who made a piece for this event and I asked them if there was any discussion of compensation. The answers I got were all of a kind…..

“Well, a lot of people were going to hear my piece, so it’s pretty good exposure , and all I had to do was make and email an .mp3 file”

Ok…fair enough. Nobody twisted any arms. There was no breach of promise to pay. If you don’t want to work up a piece for free then you were welcome to ignore the solicitation. Furthermore there was a good turnout and lots of nice people heard your music (with appropriate attribution via signage) … as promised.

So what’s my beef?

Here:

I feel betrayed.

I’m an artist and I work HARD at art, and have done so for almost all of my life. I sacrifice a lot of very valuable things in order to practice and produce my art. My art makes my community a more beautiful, inspiring, and humane place to live, and this is not mere hubris. I have enjoyed the immense favor of some external approbation of that assessment .  My art has VALUE.

Ok, I’m also old, and thus,  not naïve.  ‘The people’ have undervalued and denigrated art starting with ochre bisons  on cave walls,  but what bugs me about this affair is that the ‘composer in residence’ ,  an artist himself (nominally,  at very least) either didn’t think it necessary to pay,  or,  if he did think it necessary , he didn’t resist  his administration’s overruling it.  Furthermore I think it’s reasonable to assume that some of the  administrators of a prominent  sculpture park are (or were, at some point) artists . In all this ART-administrative edifice, nobody worked to scare-up a few hundred bucks to sprinkle a couple of twenties in an envelope for the artists who created the music. Worse, nobody in the whole chain of command felt strongly enough that they SHOULD pay the musicians,  to make it actually happen……….?!

That sucks!

The artists were stiffed by their own.

I pay my taxes , I don’t even MIND paying taxes. I also contribute to organizations that fund arts and arts education. I do this with the notion that arts organizations produce art and that the most essential  and fundamental activity in that enterprise is the artist.

I have donated to the park in question (but that’s over for sure now)  My intention in donating  is not that my money go to pay some administrator to maximize the ‘investment’  by  finding artists willing to donate their work  for  some vague  notion of ‘exposure’ …No.

I intend that the lion’s share of my donation go into the artist’s pocket.

No  one  in the whole chain of these so-called ‘arts administrators’ at this institution spoke up for the artists with enough sincerity to move one nickel  into their hands.

And that brings me to an even more controversial  position. My invective includes the contributing artists themselves.  To mix a real metaphor cocktail, this opens a barrel of the thorniest worms  in the universe!

We artists bear a lot of responsibility for this sad and bizarre state of affairs. We have let ourselves assume that it’s OK not to ask for a fee because ‘they’ think it’s ok not to feel obligated to offer one.

It’s not OK.

It’s not OK for them  to not offer to pay and it’s not OK for us to not ask for that offer.

I know a couple of finance advisors (bankers). Neither of them are millionaires,  but they are very wealthy. They do about two hours of actual work a day (I know because I oversee their computer communications and the entirety of their job (including the phone calls)  is on a computer ) the rest of the 9-5 is web surfing, shopping, fantasy sports, booking golf dates, & golf. Our culture has accepted that a 15-minute phone call to one of these guys is billable at $600. I’ll leave off the evaluation of that premise (until the revolution)  but if our culture , and that includes US artists, accepts that this ‘career’ is worth $2400 an hour, how insane have we become that we don’t feel any shame when we ask a cellist who practiced 3 hours to play a 7 minute piece at our opening  to perform for ‘exposure’ and access to the wine & cheese buffet.

I’ll answer that question:

TOO insane.

My complaints are obvious, and my mother always told me that I should stifle my whining if I didn’t have any better idea. My mom is dead and I fear her ghost. So here goes.

We CAN try to make a dent in this travesty.

Ask!

At least just force yourself to always ASK to be paid. Put the idea in ‘their’ heads that when they snort or guffaw in response to the absurdity of the  notion of an artist asserting their entitlement to be paid, then,  maybe , sooner or later, they’ll  realize that a little of the ridicule is on THEM!; …and maybe they SHOULD have considered paying you… something.

…maybe not offering to pay you for the work you do is tawdry,  barbaric, and vulgar.

And realistically I fully realize that another likely outcome will be that they will avoid asking you again because you ask to be paid. (like I said, I’m not naïve) That is a real problem, and it’s an insurmountable problem if you are the ONLY one asking for pay.  That’s why I’m PUBLISHING this  homily. I’ve let myself  indulge the barest optimism in hoping that more than one of you will start to ask.  If they are hearing it from a lot of artists.  The idea that something important is changing might just gain a foothold.

But at least we must stop apologizing for believing that what we do has enough value to be worthy of tangible compensation .

To ‘them’ I say: Pay Us! What we do is of fundamental value and it cannot be artificially produced.  We sacrifice more than you know to create our art and we are entitled to compensation just like a doctor, or a plumber, or a soldier.

And to ‘us’ I say: Demand to be paid for your art. You deserve to be paid for your labor and sacrifice and  you devalue all art when you devalue your own art.

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