Another dinner party conversation with fellow artists meandered around to the abysmal pay of our profession.
“Some galleries and art centers won’t pay you unless you ask to be paid. When you ask them how much people get paid for this kind of work they don’t have an answer. They say some people do it for free and some people ask for five star hotels.”
That statement points out the dichotomy that I hear from many artists. It’s either stark poverty or lavish excess. While I wouldn’t mind at least one night in a five star hotel at some point in my life I’m aiming to live as an artist with the dignity. For me, dignity looks like paying for health insurance, living in a safe, beautiful place, and having adequate access to other resources like higher education, vacations, and good food.
I’ve spent the last year working on “100 Strong”, a community meal and art project. I’m collaborating with two women chefs I deeply respect for their tenacity and profound connection to food. I get to work with a fundraising team comprised of a talented designer, a gifted winemaking neighbor, and a courageous and socially conscious Google executive. I have the privilege of making this vision a reality surrounded by these people I admire.
I recruited this team of fundraisers because I made a promise to myself that I would do something different this time. I wouldn’t work for free and I wouldn’t expect my collaborators to do the same. There’s always at least a small divide between what I envision and what reality holds. Sometimes reality is better than I what I can imagine.
We’re three months away from the event on October 4. I plan that the entire project: meal, video piece, art installation, will cost $34, 450. This would pay every collaborator involved a fair wage for their efforts, including myself.
Valuing my own labor and the labor of my collaborators in this ways feels audacious.
Maybe because so often I’m willing to do it for free. I love it that much and making art is a privilege. However, I don’t need to do it for free. I live in one of the wealthiest parts of the country in the middle of an economic boom. I live in a community where venues like the one we will create are needed. If I ask for nothing for my work and for my collaborators’ work, that’s what we’ll get, nothing. I want to shift this art and social work paradigm of undervaluing work, beginning with this project.
100 Strong’s budget and fundraising efforts express that artistic and community efforts are valuable and those that dedicate their lives to creating them should be well taken care of.
Here’s to hoping that reality is better than anything I can imagine.