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Valuing Labor in the Arts: Reigniting Public Art Policy as Social Practice

From our partners at Art Practical, today we bring you Jeffrey Skollers response to the workshop “Appropriate Technologies,” which was part of the practicum Valuing Labor in the Arts hosted by the Arts Research Center at UC Berkeley. Skoller asserts, Given how many young artists today are making art as social practice, relational aesthetics, and cultural activism, and who are devoting their careers to social activism, it is striking that there is so little serious discussion about the politics of public art policy. This article was originally published on May 22, 2014.

Jeremy Deller, Scott King and William Morris. A poster in response to the British government’s 2010 proposal to cut funding for the arts by 25 percent.

Jeremy Deller, Scott King, and William Morris. A poster in response to the British government’s 2010 proposal to cut funding for the arts by 25 percent.

The “Valuing Labor in the Arts” practicum at UC Berkeley on April 19 was a stimulating day of solidarity, exploration, and discussion among artists, curators, academics, and other cultural activists about the current problems of economic support, sustainability, and working conditions for artistic labor in the current context of the free-market economy. I was a respondent for the “Appropriate Technologies” workshop, and participated in the “Sharing Knowledge is Sharing Power” lectures and the “Wrap-Up Session.” Much of the discussion I heard centered on developing alternative entrepreneurial models and economies for funding and selling art, exhibition, and access to publics outside of the commercial art world. The passionate, creative discussion of self-advocacy and ways of working in the margins of the commercial and nonprofit art worlds was inspired and inspiring.

With the day’s nearly exclusive focus on creative entrepreneurialism, gift economies, and DIY forms of collectivized exhibitions, as well as crowd-sourced funding from “art CSAs” and Kickstarters and artist-pooled grants, I became acutely aware of the near total absence of any discussion of the role of public arts funding as an integral part of the development and sustainability of the labors of contemporary art practices. With all the talk of unionization, self-empowerment, collectivization—of being able to ask for what one is worth as an artist—why was there no serious discussion of the role of national arts policy in its current state in the U.S.? Perhaps my preoccupation with the place of public (federal and state) arts funding in the public sphere is a generational question for those of us who emerged as artists and cultural workers in a time in American political life—not so long ago—when public arts funding was understood as a social-justice issue, alongside health care, education, environmental justice, military spending, and media democracy.

Read the full article here.