As you apply to jobs and interview for them, there are plenty of red flags that can let you know that a workplace isn’t healthy. I can start with just the ones I have personally experienced.
In the face of economic uncertainty, the ravages of the gig economy, layoffs and closures related to the pandemic, and to overall austerity related to the arts and culture sector, artists need better economies. We need ways to build sustainable creative practices, to really own the value of our labor, and to build collective power. We need better ways to make a living as an artist beyond the uncertainty of freelancing and the constant need to fundraise and write grants.
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Right now, we are in the long process of starting to reopen the world after so much of it abruptly shut down in March of last year. There is a lot to be excited for and joyful about. People are increasingly able to safely see loved ones, hug one another, and gather together in meaningful ways. But reopening is also complicated. We’ve entered a new kind of gray area in terms of what is legally allowed, what feels ethical, what feels safe, what feels good, and what our responsibilities to one another look like.
At Fractured Atlas and on this blog, we talk about money a lot. We cover why it’s hard to talk about money, how artists can raise money, and argue that pay transparency is anti-racist. We cover crowdfunding, grants, and how to improve your chances at succeeding in both of these ventures.
At Fractured Atlas, we think a lot about the structures that govern our interactions with one another; the structures that determine who gets decision-making power in a group, and who is accountable to whom.
Nobody stays at a job forever. If we’re interested in developing healthier work cultures, that has to encompass what it means to leave a workplace. We have to build work cultures that allow us to do better than politely pretending that we’ll all work somewhere until we retire and then out of the blue give our two weeks notice. We have to become more open about job hunting and interviewing.
Change is hard, including institutional change. And it’s especially in the arts and nonprofit worlds. There is risk aversion, inertia, and the fact that racism and capitalist brutality are features and not bugs.
Before I really entered the workforce, I assumed that the people I worked with would all be my best, most lifelong friends. Without realizing it, I had assumed that my coworkers would begin to form my core social group as I got older. That hasn’t actually happened to me, but I know why I thought it would.
At Fractured Atlas, we’ve extolled the virtues of working remotely since before it was a requirement. We’ve talked about how it has helped us as an arts organization expand beyond New York City as a locus for staff, how it’s provided more flexibility for our staff, and allowed us to work together without some of the pressures of an office.
2020 laid bare the ways that our current systems have been failing artists for a long time. It has also shown us new forms of collective organizing and power-building in the arts and among creative communities. We saw the limitations of individualistic, atomized approaches to succeeding or surviving in the arts, as well as the fragility of formal institutions like museums, galleries, and nonprofits. We have been inspired by artists coming together collectively, pooling resources and sharing information to help support the broader creative community. If we are building a better, more equitable arts sector in the coming year(s), we need to nourish that community.