Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Valuing Labor in the Arts: Beth Grossman

On April 19, 2014, the Arts Research Center hosted Valuing Labor in the Arts: A Practicum. This daylong event included a series of artist-led workshops that developed exercises, prompts, or actions that engage questions of art, labor, and economics. We have asked participants to send us their reflections on keywords, puzzles, or recurring themes that came up throughout the day. This post is by Beth Grossman, a participatory performance artist based in San Francisco. She has recently been appointed to a new people-powered project called the US Department of Arts and Culture

I appreciated that this conference had plenty of artists leading the workshops....and I trust that they were all paid, well. I know how much work it is to prepare for these workshops. I appreciated and enjoyed that Cassie Thornton used her persona for parts of our workshop, Big Soft (BS) Contract, and I think it gave people some space to get in touch with their feelings about debt. 

I know that I am unusual in that I have never accrued debt that I couldn't handle easily. Many of my artist friends are drowning in debt. I have the advantage of growing up in a time when education expenses were not oppressively inflated as they are now. I also never took on any monthly charges, like gyms, car payments, etc. While I can afford it now, I still don't have cable tv, a cell phone, subscriptions, or other monthlies beyond the bare necessities..basic internet, basic phone, electric, water and garbage. It all adds up, and I always weigh the expense with time for my art. My son will be going to college next year, and we have saved up carefully for this time so he doesn't have to start his creative life out in debt.

Since debt is not a personal financial concern for me, it freed me up to exploring debt in other forms. In the meditation led by Cassie, I focused on my/our debt to the planet, my debt to my parents and ancestors, my debt to future generations. It is all related to the debt culture we live in. I would like to make some art about this. I am a participatory performance artist and have been recently exploring rights and privilege. Adding debt to the mix would be interesting. 

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