labor day

by ashleyandersondances

The Huffington Post (and more) have been readily ablaze with articles about the unpaid dancer. For one reason or another, those brief essays leave me dissatisfied. Because they either write out the obvious flaws with art institutions or artists without exploring the relationships between them as well as the relationships with flaws in arts funding.

On the other end of the spectrum today is ablaze with essays like the one linked here which deal with the violent history of Labor Day and the way in which the United States still has a complicated way of considering it’s many laborers (to put it lightly).

The one is more specific than those about dance YET it doesn’t include any examples of artists who fall readily into the category of disenfranchised laborers. And yes, I realize, dancers haven’t historically died in factories which is more what this writer was after. But until the arts make their way into commentary, as above, they will stay in the territory of pithy essays about who we should marry to stay afloat. Obviously this super brief blog post is just as guilty of being pithy but that’s because I’m not an economic wizard by any means. And I call on anyone to write something more complex that doesn’t only find fault with us as artists or with the owners of presenting venues but also with the mechanisms that allegedly distribute our wages to us and the problems that come with being an independent contractor in a system that values salaries.

When you write it (and you have plenty of time while we are all barbequing our class warfare troubles away) I will print it here. And in the journal. And just about anywhere.

2 Comments to “labor day”

  1. I think that the problem is three-fold (and this is my opinion based on what I see and my admittedly limited knowledge of arts policy-making):

    1- Our society doesn’t value the arts financially as much as it values other things – like Christmas and football. We invest in the things we value, and it drives up the salaries of the people in charge of those things.

    2- Artists aren’t taught how to be entrepreneurs, or how to drive up the intrinsic value of their work. We make art because “we have to”, and will continue to do it with no money. The romanticism behind the starving artist can be damaging because artists enter their professions thinking that’s the way it has to be. When teachers want us to remember why they’re essential, they go on strike and we quickly remember. When garbage collectors feel underpaid and under-appreciated, they stop picking up our garbage to show us why they are important. I’m not suggesting that every artist need be in a union and strike until we get paid fair wages, I’m simply speculating what our cities, states, country, and world would look like if artists stopped making work for free and started demanding what they are worth

    3- The non-profit organizational structure isn’t a perfect fit for arts organizations, and we continue to use this model because it’s the best way to secure grants. As an independent artist, your choices are limited for grant opportunities. A new model needs to be created, and granting organizations need to get on board with recognizing the need to fund that new model.

    The problem of arts funding is not new… far from it. And unfortunately, there have been no ubiquitous solutions from the heavy hitters in arts advocacy organizations. Dance/USA is attempting to have a discussion about it in their e-journal. At the conference this year one of the break out sessions was geared toward talking about why dance is “a field in danger”. Hopefully a more open discussion will help create solutions.

  2. Thanks for your comment Lauren. I completely agree particularly about the non-profit structure. It’s sometimes the only model to manage projects and be funded but is far from ideal. I wonder what the “new model” would look like and would love if the Dance/USA conversations could somehow be documented here. I think people could get behind the new model but finding what that is seems so overwhelming when it comes to say….university systems or….the tax code.

    Please feel free to e-mail any of those e-journal materials to so they can be linked here. It’s obviously a complex and important conversation.

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