Every Monday morning, Artnet News brings you The Gray Market. The column decodes important stories from the previous weekand offers unparalleled insight into the inner workings of the art industry in the process.
This week, discussing a different kind of art-market guarantee
On Thursday, a coalition of more than 300 Canadian artists, arts workers, and institutions publicly released a letter addressed to prime minister Justin Trudeau and other high-ranking officials urging the creation of a permanent basic-income guarantee nationwide. And while the letter from our friends in the North technically only addresses the plight of their own population, its timing and its cogent framing of the larger issues also show why artists and arts workers everywhere should care.
Authored by artists Craig Berggold, Zainub Verjee, and Clayton Windatt, the letter continues a recent surge of momentum at the highest levels of Canadian politics for universal basic incomein its most utopian form, an unconditional regular payment that would be made to citizens, regardless of their employment status, to guarantee a minimum standard of living.
CanadianArt notes that the Parliamentary Budget Office released a report on national universal basic income (UBI) on July 7, largely in response to British Columbia senator Yuen Pau Woos advocacy for the relief it could provide Canadians buffeted by the grand shutdown of 2020. More than 1,200 residents, including many artists, also backed a pro-UBI petition sent to the Canadian House of Commons last month.
Although artists have been a major power source for UBIs propulsion into the Canadian consciousness, the brilliance of the new letter lies in its erasure of the boundaries separating art-world problems from wider-world problems. Its authors argue that UBI is needed to counteract the rise of a two-headed serpent: the worsening insufficiency of social-welfare programs at all levels of government, and the growing dominance of gig work such as driving for ride-share startups and food-delivery services. Heres the key passage for my money:
The gig economy is undermining decades of worker protections. As participants, many arts-and-culture-sector workers are subject to precarious short-term contracts, without access to benefits, paid sick leave, or even employment insurance. Today, the world of general labor is looking a lot like the way art labor has looked for decades.
In other words, these problems have been slowly metastasizing over many years, but the lockdown and its effects on the economy have accelerated them to a dire new degree. Establishing UBI, the letters signatories say, is exactly the kind of radical response necessary to solve such an insidious problem.
Yet Canada and its art industry are far from the only places on the globe under this same malicious strain. And this reality became clear by way of multiple distressing announcements from elsewhere in the art world this week.
Sabine Hornig, La Guardia Vistas (2020). Photo by Nicholas Knight, courtesy of the artist; LaGuardia Gateway Partners; Public Art Fund, NY; Tanya Bonakdar Gallery, New York/Los Angeles. Sabine Hornig and VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn Germany.
Lets start with the cold winds blowing out of arts institutions in New York City. On Thursday, my colleague Taylor Dafoe laid out the findings of a new report by Southern Methodist Universitys DataArts initiative: after combining lost revenue and shutdown-related expenses, New York cultural institutions have hemorrhaged a knee-buckling $500 million since March. Their laborers took arguably the most direct hit, as the shutdown vaporized over 15,000 jobs totaling about 21 percent of the overall cultural workforce.
The survey compiled responses from 810 of the almost 1,300 nonprofits given funding by the citys department of cultural affairs. Not surprisingly, the results showed the financial damage was disproportionately weighted toward smaller organizations; major museums suffered the least. Daniel Fonner, who spearheaded the study, summed it all up by saying, What was difficult about this project, in a way, is that a lot of it is just bad news.
British cultural institutions can relate. Also on Thursday, after being prodded by a skeptical, data-backed inquiry from the Art Newspaper, the Creative Industries Federationan organization with members from across the spectrum of UK arts professionsdramatically revised its mid-June estimate of the losses likely to be faced by the museums, public galleries, and libraries in its constituency. Instead of a nine percent, roughly 743 million ($934 million) decline, the federation is now anticipating a demon drop of 45 percent, or more than 3.7 billion ($4.7 billion) in losses. Cue an organ blast from a vintage horror movie.
A Creative Industries Federation spokesperson called the original projection an honest mistake at a time when many of our partners were incredibly stretched and thinly resourced. Which, if true, kind of just drives home the point here, doesnt it? When the arts sector doesnt have enough money, time, or staff to do its work properly, the end product will probably suck. Its just as true in London or New York as it is in Toronto or Vancouver. This would make a universal basic income well, universally valuable to arts workers around the world.
But the benefits are about more than just boosting the quality of cultural production, of course. Its also just a simple matter of quality of life. No other news clarified this concept as forcefully as still another reportthis one from outside the art world, published two days before the Canadian UBI letter and the two art-industry studies I mentioned above.
Visitors look at Do Ho Suhs site-specific work Home Within Home at the National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, Korea in Seoul. Photo Jung Yeon-Je/AFP/Getty Images.
On Tuesday, the National Low Income Housing Coalition released its annual Out of Reach report, which crunches numbers on the affordability of home rentals for the lowest-earning laborers in all 50 American states. The results are so grim that they might as well have been handed over by a skeleton in a hooded black robe.
As CNBC broke down, the study found that a full-time employee earning the local minimum wage nets too little to responsibly afford a one-bedroom apartment in 95 percent of counties across the US and, for the second consecutive year, too little to afford a two-bedroom anywhere in the nation.
The findings are based on allotting no more than 30 percent of annual income for housingthe maximum advised by a wide swathe of budgeting experts, including US government officials, since the 1980s. (Except in certain special situations, minimum wage in the US currently ranges from $7.25 to $14 an hour, depending on the state.)
How many hours would a single minimum-wage laborer need to work on average to budget for these two types of homes? The answers are roughly 79 hours a week for a one-bedroom, and 97 hours a week for a two-bedroom. Which means this slice of the labor marketone that, perversely, happens to include millions of workers labeled essential during the shutdown, such as grocery-store staffers, delivery drivers, and food-service employeescould only manage to do so by either working a second full-time job, and/or taking on exactly the kind of gig work the 300-plus signatories of the Canadian letter identified as a central reason UBI is needed.
Yet many artists and arts workers arent much better off than minimum-wage earners, if they are better off at all. Yes, the growing ranks of laborers unionizing (and attempting to unionize) at US cultural institutions are, in a very real sense, rallying around deeper structural issues. But the fight for fair wages has pounded out a consistent drum track to their efforts, especially in arts hubs where, as more-on-point-than-he-was-given-credit-for New York gubernatorial candidate Jimmy McMillan noted, the rent is simply too damn high.
(Fun fact: When I see Andrew Cuomo, who has slurped up more money from New Yorks real-estate lobbyists than any other donor, laughing like a suited gargoyle after McMillan says his peace in that clip, my entire body momentarily ignites like the Human Torch.)
As much as I hate to say it, the situation is poised to get even worse for the rank-and-file American art world. Heres a bit of marrow-chilling context from the CNBC summary of Out of Reach:
With all of that as the backdrop, housing experts forecast a coming housing apocalypse at the end of July: Eviction bans put in place at the start of the pandemic are lifting, just as enhanced unemployment benefits expire. That could lead millions of households to face eviction and potentially homelessness as they choose between covering rent and basics like food and medicine.
All of which illustrates the point made by the 300-plus signatories of the pro-UBI letter to Canadian officials: the world of general labor is looking a lot like the way art labor has looked for decades. From Canada to New York to the UK and beyond, too many of us are all facing the same structural peril for the same structural reasons. Arts workers rights are human rights, just channeled through one particular prism.
Im not sure if universal basic income is the only, or the best, skeleton key to get the art industry out of this dungeon, but I am sure about this: the sooner artists and arts workers in one location can connect their local concerns to their counterparts elsewhere, as well as to those of the broader labor force suffering under the same injustices, the more achievable genuine transformation should be. Canadas art world sees it. Hopefully others will, tooand soon.
[Ontario Basic Income Network | CanadianArt]
Thats all for this week. Til next time, remember: fairness is simultaneously the simplest ask and the most complicated one of all.
Read more here:
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- BC has better tools than universal basic income to create a more just society, report finds - UBC News - February 1st, 2021
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- Basic income for all: Has the Covid crisis given us a new economic model? - The Irish Times - December 3rd, 2020
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- Why Kamala Harris VP pick could cost Biden the election - Fox Business - August 13th, 2020
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- Why We Should Turn to Earned Income Tax Credit to Aid Those Struggling Through Pandemic - The National Interest - August 8th, 2020
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- Extra $600 unemployment benefits set to expire this weekend - WKOW - July 25th, 2020
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- ECLAC calls for urgent regional cooperation beyond the pandemic to foster more integration and avert a food crisis - Dominican Today - July 25th, 2020
- 'A recovery that puts people first': A group of young Australians is demanding a government job guarantee to fight both soaring unemployment and... - July 24th, 2020
- Analysis: Behind the legal maneuvering in the Reclaim Idaho initiative - Idaho EdNews - July 24th, 2020
- In the wake of Covid-19, time to consider basic income: Senate report - Investment Executive - July 21st, 2020
- COVID-19 on P.E.I.: What's happening Tuesday, July 14 - CBC.ca - July 21st, 2020
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- Lift Every Voice: The Urgency of Universal Civic Duty Voting - Brookings Institution - July 20th, 2020
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- Interviews: Punks on Politics: Checking in with Mel Gagarin - Punknews.org - June 22nd, 2020
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- Adam Schiff Says Trump's Cult of the President Has Infected the Republican Party - Mother Jones - May 9th, 2020
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- I've lived through plenty of social shocks this time we must learn the lessons - The Guardian - March 31st, 2020
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- Find ways to improve the revenue of farmers: Congress - The Hindu - January 30th, 2020
- Eliminating Child Poverty With a Government Check - The New York Times - January 30th, 2020
- Andrew Yang Expects 'Many' of His Supporters to Back Sanders in Iowa: We 'Have a Lot of Overlap' - Newsweek - January 30th, 2020
- Trump to let states overhaul Medicaid for the poor, seeking to change Obamacare without legislation - Washington Examiner - January 30th, 2020
- P.E.I. groups say basic Income should not replace addictions, other supports - The Journal Pioneer - January 27th, 2020
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- WAYNE YOUNG: Island voices must be heard - The Guardian - December 15th, 2019
- The Guardian view on Finlands new PM: a different type of leadership - The Guardian - December 15th, 2019
- Basic Income as 40 Acres and a Mule - Basic Income News - October 16th, 2019
- 'Most Americans Don't Want To Work for the Federal Government' Says Andrew Yang, Trashing Federal Jobs Guarantee - Reason - October 16th, 2019
- Democratic debate highlights: best and most substantive answers of the night - Vox.com - October 16th, 2019
- Sanders: 'Damn right we will' have a job for every American | TheHill - The Hill - October 16th, 2019
- Assembly Elections 2019: Why is the Congress evasive about NYAY scheme this poll season? - Moneycontrol.com - October 16th, 2019
- Letter to the Editor: Universal basic income is inevitable as we head toward a fully automated society - The Post - October 16th, 2019
- Democrats focus on some Midwestern issues at Westerville debate, a departure from past three forums - cleveland.com - October 16th, 2019
- New book reviews the Namibian Basic Income pilot - Basic Income News - October 1st, 2019
- Quick notes from Basic Income Guarantee Panel - falicon.com - January 28th, 2019
- 'Hartz reforms': how a benefits shakeup changed Germany ... - January 28th, 2019
- Basic income could end food insecurity - Upstream - January 3rd, 2019
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- Food shopping at dollar stores | Brantford Expositor - Brantford Expositor - August 24th, 2017
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- After lifting minimum wage, NDP government prepares to consult public about reducing poverty - Straight.com - August 16th, 2017
- Universal Basic Infrastructure to help decrease India's poverty - Economic Times - August 14th, 2017
- New Zealand Fabians host Basic Income panel - Basic Income News - August 13th, 2017
- Hashtag Trending Battery-free phone, Apple's China backlash - IT World Canada - August 10th, 2017
- Universal basic income proponent to speak in Boise - Idaho Press-Tribune - August 7th, 2017
- Let's talk about a supplemental income - The Hindu - August 7th, 2017
- Is a Well-Paying Job the next Entitlement Program? - Big Think (blog) - August 5th, 2017
- DON PRIDMORE: Be careful what you wish for... - The Guardian - August 1st, 2017
- EDITORIAL: Island needs dollars, not data, to cope with poverty - The Guardian - July 29th, 2017