Who Pays Artists?

From our friends at Bad at Sports, today we bring you a synthesis of recent considerations on the economics of artist compensation. Author Abigail Satinsky asks, “Because if we do agree, yes artists should get paid, what then? Who are our choruses directed at?” This article was originally published on October 24, 2014.

Anna Gray + Ryan Wilson Paulsen. 100 Posterworks, 2009-2013; printed poster; 11 x 17 in.

Anna Gray + Ryan Wilson Paulsen. 100 Posterworks, 2009-2013; printed poster; 11 x 17 in.

In a recent review in the New Yorker of the Brooklyn Museum’s exhibition of local art, Crossing Brooklyn: Art from Bushwick, Bed-Stuy, and Beyond, Peter Schjeldahl singles out BFAMFAPHD as puncturing the effervescent mood of the exhibition, saying that, “The collective BFAMFAPHD (the initials of academic degrees) spreads a homeopathic wet blanket on the show’s high spirits with statistical documentation of the hard lots of current graduates—the staggering number of artists, debt burdens, iffy prospects. The bonus bummer of a group discussion among veteran local artists, in the show’s catalogue, circles the drain of Topic A in the daily life of art anywhere: real estate.” While I don’t really care too much about the over-celebration of Brooklyn as a creative context, this snarky tidbit has a little bit of truth—the hard lots of current graduates is indeed a quite epic bummer and not just in the over-capitalized art scenes of New York.

But besides being concerned about the harshing of Schjeldahl’s mellow on the wonders of Bushwick, and I didn’t see the show, the questions around who can afford to be artist in today’s economy and concurrent debt crisis is a central concern to today’s generation of artists. How can we talk about this situation openly, honestly, with some well-deserved finger-pointing around the exploitation of artists by institutional culture and a little self-reflexivity about why artists do indeed deserve to get paid (all artists? for what kinds of services?) and who should pay them?

With the recent efforts by collectives BFAMFAPHD asking “What is a work of art in the age of $120,000 art degrees?”, W.A.G.E. Fee Calculator which aims to set standards for artist compensation based on organizational budgets, and from a slightly different angle Brooklyn Commune, “a report on the state of the performing arts from the perspective of artists” (all New York-based) providing perspective with some hard numbers to back it up, it’s an exciting time to think about artist-driven efforts to research and fundamentally change the systemic exploitation of artists.

Read the full article here.

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