Despite Thursday’s chilly rain, there was a surprisingly robust turnout at Occupy Wall Street’s lunchtime Arts & Labor meeting on the High Line. By the time the group traipsed en masse to the backup rain location, under the covered area by Spencer Finch’s colored-glass-pane installation, about 60 people were milling around, helping themselves to PB&J or hummus sandwiches, apples and, thanks to one generous attendee’s thermos, hot cups of milky chai.
By 1 P.M., the three Arts & Labor facilitators–Erin , Blithe and Yates–got the people’s mic up and running by explaining the group’s goal: to expose and rectify economic inequalities and exploitative working conditions in the art world. This was followed by a giggle-inducing demonstration of OWS’s consensus-gathering hand signals, and then the three turned it over to the crowd.
The mostly short and articulate speeches ranged from personal anecdotes tinged with frustration to specific suggestions to combat illegal hiring practices. James has a degree in fine arts and is pissed off that he has to bartend. Phil wants to create a database of for-profit galleries that hire unpaid interns (which he said is illegal) and send an open letter to NYFA exposing the law-breakers. Leticia is exasperated at the way universities exploit adjunct professors.
Cathy shared that she’s been working on the margins of the art world since finishing her formal education in 1968 (well before most of her fellow Arts & Labor Occupiers were born). To collect on her debt, the government had recently dipped into her social security disability payments. Her final statement–“I have low vision, but I can still see you, and I can still see your vision”–earned a show of supportive jazz hands (“up twinkles,” in OWS sign language) from the crowd.
One nattily dressed professional artist named Sam pointed out that, while it is in his gallery’s best interest to present him as an independent creator, his “independence is dependent” on the various underappreciated gallery employees that make his exhibitions possible. This led Dan to remind us of those who labor to produce our paintbrushes, canvases and cameras. At this point it seemed like the conversation was about to drift from the meeting’s stated goals.
Things started to peter off when Andrea wondered out loud why this event took the format of a general assembly meeting as opposed to a panel discussion. She expressed hope that future gatherings might include arts laborers who weren’t all MFA graduates of or aggravated adjuncts at Bard and Columbia.
After a brief awkward silence, the remaining Occupiers headed off for Union Square, with plans to reconvene at Foley Square later that evening.
The Arts & Labor group meets Tuesdays at 7:30 P.M. See OWS’s Arts & Culture page for more information.