When Bank of Canada Govenor Stephen Poloz publicly stated that young, unemployed Canadians ought to work for free, it seemed most people were rightly annoyed.
For a while, it seemed like the rest of society could actually sympathize with us young folk. The idea that most un- or underemployed people could not afford to do something like extensive volunteering or unpaid internships in lieu of actual work to build a CV was discussed in mainstream settings for what seems like the first time.
The idea that maybe unpaid jobs only benefit those who already have enough money to live off of was finally publicly accepted. Value was publicly placed on our generation’s labour force for the first time that I can remember.
It’s unfortunate that the conversation never came to include artists who, at any age, find their work publicly devalued and financially unappreciated.
Just two weeks ago I wrote about the origins of Artspace in 1974. It started in part because a group of local artists felt that they deserved to earn living wages for their work.
Few galleries, including public galleries supported by the government of Canada, paid artists appropriately, if at all, for showcasing their art. Artspace was an attempt to change that attitude and start a conversation about artist’s wages.
While it’s been a hugely successful 40 years, by no means has this problem been erased. The idea that an artist ought to work for free to gain some exposure is still prevalent and accepted by many.
To me, this is no different than telling young people to work for free to gain experience. If we won’t have one, we can’t have the other either.
In many ways it’s actually more outrageous to say this to an artist given what their work entails.
Artists, regardless of their field, use special tools that most people don’t know how to use. Part of being an artist involves becoming an expert at using them. Like all things, these tools degrade over time through use, and need to be repaired or replaced from time-to-time. Some of those inevitable costs ought to be factored in to any artist’s payment.
Furthermore, a lot of the work an artist does happens behind the scenes. No matter the discipline, extensive planning is necessary to make sure the final product is the best it can be. This is especially relevant for applied artists like photographers and designers. It doesn’t take long to take a photo, but it does take extensive planning to set one up.
But, because this work isn’t always easy to see happening, it often gets ignored.
All too often artists are expected to work for free. It shouldn’t matter whether you’re an artist or young, everyone who works ought to be paid for it.