A convergence of conversations on the precarity of working in the arts

I’m seeing a lot of movement around conversations on the precarity of working in the arts. It’s no longer just a conversation about the fact that this is a reality for those who work as artists and culture workers. The conversation is beginning to move towards how we address the systems that have created these precarious work environments. Toronto, Peterborough and Hamilton are three cities where I’m aware of people mobilizing to address some of these issues.

In November of 2017 Public Energy Performing Arts and Fleshy Thud organized the Precarious Peterborough ArtWORK Festival as a way of exploring these issues through creativity and dialogue. You can learn more by listening to their podcast.

In Hamilton, local artists hosted the“Gathering on Art, Gentrification, and Economic Development” (GAGED) in the fall of 2018 bringing together various community voices in a public forum to address the impact of gentrification & economic development and the role of the arts in those processes. On March 8th, a second event is taking place at the Workers Arts and Heritage Centre entitled “Socio Economic Status of Artists in the GTHA”. This gathering will explore “what an increased artist labour force means to the infrastructure, economy, and ecology of Hamilton, as well as the relationships between the existing art community and incoming artists. The panelists — Michael Maranda, Angela Orasch, and Sally Lee — provide an overview of the issues affecting the city’s mix of long-standing art community members, art-growth sympathizers, new-wave and first-wave artist implants, civic leaders, and youth organizers.”

In Toronto a consortium of cross-sectoral leaders supported by OTF have come together to develop a better understanding of potential approaches and strategies that have been deployed to address the various dimensions of precarity faced by artists and culture workers. Led by WorkInCulture, the group is made up of representatives from Toronto Arts Council, the Ontario Nonprofit Network’s Decent Work campaign, Urban Workers, AFC as well as the former ED of CARFAC Ontario. The collective has just posted an RFP for a researcher who can develop an extensive environmental scan that can be used to guide project strategy moving forward. And I would be remiss not to add that our guest hub host Jessa Agilo is leading work addressing the impacts of gentrification in the arts through her organization, ArtsPond. You can read more about that in her recent post here.


Share your thoughts in the comments below!

Before I sign off I wanted to share a link to an interview with a Hamilton artist who was part of Ontario’s recently canceled Basic Income Pilot. It aired on Piya Chattopadhyay’s CBC program Out in the Open. It’s a great case study on the precarity experienced by artists in developing their professional practice and also speaks to an important issue that emerges in discussions on precarity and one of the differences between the way artists experience it versus the general public. Namely that artists are choosing to try and make it as artists whereas the majority of people living precariously have very little choice in their work. Have a listen here and let’s continue the discussion.

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Liz, thank you for posting these links. Very useful.