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Executive Director’s Letter 9/6/22

A labor of love is still labor. Work is work, and toiling over the sweetest meal is still toiling.

Why is it considered so much a blessing to do the work you love, that any discussion of compensation is considered inappropriate, if not downright unseemly? I once had a post-performance review discussion with my nonprofit organization boss in which I asked about a raise. Her answer? That any discussion of increasing my compensation made her question my dedication to the cause.

But if we value the work, we should value the labor. That goes for artists, teachers, nurses, construction workers, cashiers, you name it.

Sadly for artists, this prejudice is compounded by the belief that they need favors. This is most clearly manifested when they are given “opportunities” that will offer them great exposure, but no financial compensation. This happens even when the artist has to incur additional expenses for cost such as those associated with installing an exhibition. How can we help ensure that labor is appropriately valued? One of my favorite artist/thought leaders, Andrew Simonet, the founder and Director of Artists U, recently shared The Practical (Perhaps Obvious) Thoughts on Paying Artists. Here are a few of his gems:

  • Just because artists will work for free doesn't mean we should. Pay us.
  • Exposure is not compensation. Exposure is what you die of in the wilderness.
  • If you receive salary and benefits, remember that many artists do not. You may be able to give a talk for free or for an “honorarium” because you still get your salary that day. Working artists give up paid work to sit on your panel, to give a presentation or artist talk, or to consult on your idea.
  • Bring artists in early and often. Don't just sprinkle artists into the project after it's planned; hire artists as the planners.
  • Working Artists and the Greater Economy has some useful artist fee calculators based on organizational size.
  • Still not sure? For hourly tasks (not performances, lectures, or workshops) I offer $50/hour or the artist's rate, whichever is higher.

Are you still thinking about yesterday’s celebration of Labor Day? Let’s remember that it is not only a celebration of organized labor, but also the many contributions of workers themselves. You can honor workers by reading Chicago Tribune columnist Christopher Borrelli’s 2020 article “Do you appreciate your supermarket cashier? Re-reading Studs Terkel’s ‘Working’ for the pandemic.” Better yet, revisit Terkel’s 48-year-old book, Working: People Talk About What They Do All Day and How They Feel About What They Do.” As a testament to its impact,Terkel’s book was made into a Tony and Drama Desk Award-winning musical. It’s a great read!

All my best,


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