"Many of the most important factors influencing artists’ ability to make work and thrive are not art-world specific."
Artists have specialized skills and capacities, but their basic needs are not unique. They need stable and affordable housing; access to health care and unemployment insurance; time off when they are sick or have a family crisis; fair wages; legal protection from exploitation; and opportunities and resources to turn their ideas into reality.
Yet most working artists—including many who are considered “successful” by typical standards—work multiple jobs and struggle to make ends meet, falling through the cracks of our economy and social safety net. The COVID-19 pandemic made clear that artists’ economic lives are precarious, and they have few safety nets available to them in moments of shock or disruption. The good and bad news is that artists are not alone, and there are growing movements working to address the systemic and structural issues that keep many members of our society on the margins, often despite working full-time and/or providing services of great value to communities. Artists and artist advocates can benefit from joining broader movements fighting for fair pay and benefits, workers’ rights, debt relief, guaranteed income, more democratic workplaces, affordable housing, subsidized child care, and more; as well as adapting their strategies, tactics, and tools to push for a more equitable, sustainable, and democratic creative sector.
This report investigates five areas where artists and artist advocates can invest for structural and systemic change (as well as a critical look at NFTs).
One of the biggest challenges for entrepreneurs is how to access the capital they need to start up and grow their businesses. This capital comes from one of three places: investors, loans from banks or other institutions, or personal assets and networks. Challenges to accessing capital are compounded along demographic lines and the types of endeavors that entrepreneurs take on. Artists and creative businesses often struggle to access capital.
Opportunities include: Community Development Financial Institutions; community lending intermediaries; equity crowdfunding; impact investment; and regenerative finance.
Businesses that are owned and governed by members for their collective benefit. It is a model of ownership that has been around for centuries, and there are many different types of co-ops.
Opportunities include: integrating worker-direction into existing arts organizations; supporting conversions of successful creative businesses to worker cooperatives; educating artists interesting in starting new cultural enterprises on how to integrate principles of democratic governance into their work; increasing opportunities for raising capital for new cooperatives and conversions; and supporting policies and programs that ease cooperative formation and financing.
People working as independent contractors (those who receive a 1099 tax form instead of a W2 in the U.S.) are not eligible for standard employee benefits such as unemployment insurance, workers compensation, disability, and paid leave.
Opportunities include: advocating for strengthening laws to combat misclassification of workers as independent contractors who should be employees; strengthening the ability of workers to organization and exert collective power; and extending worker protections and social insurance programs to cover independent contractors.
A "recurring, unrestricted, and unconditional cash transfer provided to people earning below a certain level of income." (Jain Family Institute) Guaranteed Income as an idea has been around for decades in the U.S., but its momentum has taken off in the last couple years.
Opportunities include: mobilizing artists and larger arts sector as advocates for economic justice and community wealth building; advocating for guaranteed income principles to be adopted as "best practice" in the arts sector; and participating in policy and advocacy discussions around broader economic issues.
People democratically self-organizing to meet their own and/or others’ needs outside of market structures, the state, and philanthropy. It is neither new nor rare—many groups who are neglected or discriminated against by the dominant society have long depended on mutual aid for survival.
Opportunities include: supporting individuals and organizations that are working towards democratically governed operations; encouraging a more conscious embrace of mutual aid practices and tools for cooperation.