Thursday, May 1, 2014

Valuing Labor in the Arts: Maria Billings

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 Maria Billings, an artist who completed her studies of textile art at the University of Cologne. Her new, bilingual book Roman Horses, Cavalli Romani is an art book of water colors and drawings which accompany you on a historic stroll through Rome - finding horses in unexpected places.

I attended Lise Soskolne's session on "Defining Value, Labor and the Arts". W.A.G.E. was founded 2008 in New York to research artists fees, or lack thereof, and to create a minimum fee schedule for artistic services provided to non-profit organizations. The whole area is so complex that I found the restricted scope very useful.

What is a fee in this context and what is it not a fee?
  • The fee is a price or the remuneration for services to a non-profit organization.
  • It is NOT the basic programming expenses which are the responsibility of the institution who wants to include artistic services.
  • It is NOT intended to cover production expenses (which are more speculative in nature). The coverage of production expenses does not constitute compensation even if the work produced may result in future sales.

Lise divided the fee schedule into three levels.  She has complex spreadsheets for a number of services. The WAGE team is still in process of refining them and will publish them on their website.

 What can change?
  • Funding: Foundations could continue to give money to non-profit organizations, BUT request proof that they are paying artist feed.
  • Issue of transparency: Artist fees should be a visible line item in budget plans of organizations.
  • Raising awareness of practical realities.

Personal reflections
The entire event, especially the conversations with various participants was helpful is defining my "borders":
  • As before attending the workshop, I will support some non-profits for free.
  • For others, in the past, I used California minimum wage plus actual expenses (materials directly related to the service, such as printing handouts, travel, and so on). I used to think of this as "exposure". - This I'll probably replace with a minimum fixed fee, because it's simpler than counting my hours. Although the shock value of knowing precisely how long I labored on an artistic project has convinced some organizations that there is value in it.
  • What I will decline are donating my services or works to small museums who want to sell them (without dividing the profit) to buy other artists works and add to their employees bonuses.
  • What I will also decline are donating my services or works to organizations who go out-of-their-way to make me feel guilty for not supporting them. I hate emotional blackmail, and this entire event helped me to understand that I don't need to go there.

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