- The precarious nature of cultural work is not necessarily a new phenomenon. In 1888’s ‘Letter to a Young Gentleman Who Proposes to Embrace the Career of Art’, Robert Louis Stevenson writes:
If you adopt an art to be your trade, weed your mind at the outset of all desire of money. What you may decently expect, if you have some talent and much industry, is such an income as a clerk will earn with a tenth or perhaps a twentieth of your nervous output. Nor have you the right to look for more; in the wages of the life, not in the wages of the trade, lies your reward; the work is here the wages.
- Over 120 years later, data from the US indicates that:
people who graduate with arts degrees regularly end up with a lot of debt and incredibly low prospects for earning a living as artists.
- Another article from David Byrne arguing that recent developments in digital technology intensify these problems and that this “spells disaster for today’s artists”.
- Unpaid internships (many of which are in the ‘creative industries’), display many of the forms of ‘precarity’ mentioned in this session, and create barriers to those without independent wealth. Data from the UK suggests that even when those from working-class backgrounds do find work in the arts, they will earn significantly less.
- The problematic nature of work in cultural institutions has received much media attention. For instance, outsourcing at the National Gallery, (2), zero-hours contracts at Tate Liverpool, staff replaced with volunteers at FACT…
- Perhaps the most problematic work related to culture is being a migrant worker building Abu Dhabi’s planned ‘cultural hub’ containing outposts of the Guggenheim and Louvre. Similar issues to these were raised in relation to the cultural centre in Azerbaijan designed by the late Zaha Hadid.