Course blog for American University PERF-570, Fall 2014
This article from Flavorwire presents the issue of those in the arts industry being underpaid – and often unpaid – reminded me of our in-class discussion on Monday about Cirque Du Soleil performer salaries. This issue has been written about again and again, usually presenting it as a symbol of artists being undervalued. While I think this is often true, and I definitely advocate for artists and nonprofit workers and writers etc to be paid equally to other industries, I also agree that context plays a part as well. A big part of the question is who is paying you. If it’s a large for profit company who can afford to pay you more but doesn’t, then yes that is completely unfair and devalues the creative industry. But often times the organizations and groups that arts minded people align themselves with simply cannot afford to pay their employees competitive salaries, understanding that their employees work because they truly believe in the cause rather than to make a lot of money. Another part of the argument is unpaid internships – I’ve certainly done my fair share of them and I’m sure most people in this class have as well. Was I frustrated at the time that I wasn’t being paid to do the same work as paid employees? Yes, and I’m sure in some cases I was being taken advantage of for my unpaid labor. But I also got great experience doing something I genuinely liked, which prepared me for the paid jobs I have had since.
I especially liked this point from the article: “I think there are exceptions to the rule. If no one’s making any money on a project, if everyone involved is in it solely for the love of what they’re doing (and likely with the awareness that it’s not a viable commercial pursuit), there’s nothing wrong with donating your time and talent.
Because here’s the thing: this isn’t just about unpaid labor. One reason people, especially young people with creative aspirations, work for free is to form valuable relationships that will push their careers forward. But you can’t form a valuable relationship with a rich person who can afford to but won’t pay you a reasonable wage, because your entire relationship with that rich person is based on their failure to acknowledge the value of the work you’re doing for them.”