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Open Letter to Suzanne Lacy, Nato Thompson, Catherine J. Morris, Brooklyn Museum, Creative Time

October 16, 2013

Dear Suzanne Lacy, Nato Thompson, Catherine J. Morris and volunteers and staff of Brooklyn Museum and Creative Time,

We are artists, scholars, activists, feminists, wage laborers and mothers performing in Between the Door and the Street. While there are many merits to this piece, and we are hopeful about the public conversations we will engage in, we raise issue with the lack of payment for performers and the lack of childcare options for participating mothers.

As feminists, we believe not paying the 350 women participants perpetuates labor inequality, devalues women’s time and assumes that all women in this piece are financially able to volunteer time, energy, emotional and political content for free. We believe that assuming and relying on free/unpaid contributions of our time for your project continues to perpetuate a standard of capitalist economy that systematically underpays and disenfranchises us, and devalues our time, our bodies, our energies, our histories and our intellects through tactics such as “professionalization.” “volunteerism” and more. This is a mainstream standard that has never worked for us, and does not serve us now. A culture of “volunteerism” assumes that all participants have the means to volunteer and perpetuates the very real reality of poverty and scarcity for many artists and activists. Compensating us would address, in a small but important way, the material realities and economic oppressions impacting many of our lives.

As women who come from different socio-economic and racial backgrounds, we understand that not all activism can or should be paid. However, we do think that the arts community has an imperative to try harder to set a better standard of compensating women for their labor, and for practicing solidarity economies that support women’s participation instead of exploiting them. Additionally, we feel that poor public framing of the unpaid “volunteerism” and time commitments required for Between the Door and the Street create a high barrier to entry. Most of the women participating are non-profit professionals, or women attached to high-visibility non-profits discussing the prompt questions of: “who will take care of the nannies children?” but can the “nanny” bring her own children to this event and participate in an equitable manner, given that she will not be paid, and there will be no childcare? We think not.

We are familiar with, and respectful of Suzanne Lacy’s art, and it is in the spirit of compassionate solidarity and loving community engagement,that we are bringing up these issues. We believe that art and artists benefit from honest critique and that a piece such as Between the Door and the Street that aims to open up space to talk about feminism and women’s work must take on these issues.

Respectfully yours,

Leina Bocar ( performer )

artist, activist, member of Occupy Sunset Park and Arts and Labor

Anonymous performer 1

Anonymous participant 2

* We are in no way attempting to speak on behalf of the other women performers or for their organizations. We are respectfully signing as individuals.

 

_________________________________________________________

 

Supporters, signing in solidarity,

 

1. W.A.G.E. (Working Artists in the Greater Economy)

2. Laurel Ptak, curator, member of Arts and Labor

3. Marisa Holmes, activist, filmmaker, Occupy Wall Street

4. Andrew Ross, Professor of Social and Cultural Analysis, New York University

5. Julieta Salgado, activist, sociologist, Brooklyn College

6. Saar Shemesh, artist, activist, Free Cooper Union

7. Sarah Quinter, artist, activist, Occupy Sandy

8. Zoltan Gluck, Doctoral student, Anthropology, CUNY Graduate Center

9. Kressent Pottenger, activist, Murphy Institute for Labor studies, CUNY, member of Arts and Labor

10. Mike Andrews, Occupy Wall Street, Strike Debt, Copy Editor e-flux

11. Katherine Ramos, activist, mother

12. Noah Fischer, artist, activist

13. Samantha Demby, social justice activist

14. Matthew Tinker, activist, All in the Red

15. George Caffentzis, Emeritus Professor of Philosophy, University of Southern Maine

16. Peter Walsh, Intern Labor Rights, member of Arts and Labor

17. Hector Agredano, CCNY Instructor

18. Elena Schowlsky-Fitch, Public health educator, community activist, Occupy Sunset Park, mother

19. Rachel Higgins, artist, activist, member of Arts and Labor

20. Steve McFarland, Doctoral Candidate, CUNY Graduate Center

21. Sarah Newgaard, CUNY Hunter College alumni

22. Darrah Martin, Free University, Postdoctoral Fellow, Columbia University

23. Lauren Suchman

24. Igor Rodriguez Calderon, Doctoral Candidate, Cultural Anthropology, CUNY Graduate Center

25. Jerry Goralnick, activist, actor, War Resisters League, The Living Theatre, Strike Debt

26. Emily Baierl

27. Rob Robinson, housing justice activist, Take Back the Land, NESRI

28. Helen Panagiotopoulous, CUNY Graduate Center

29.  Brad Young, Doctoral student, Political Science, CUNY Graduate Center

30.  Amy Starecheski, Columbia University

31.  Susan Jahoda, professor at UMASS Amherst , Rethinking Marxism Collective

32. Simon Leung, artist and Professor, UC Irvine

33. Maureen Connor, artist, Professor at Queens College, Founder of Social Practice Program

34. Jessica Feldman, Doctoral candidate, Department of Media, Culture, Communication, New York University, activist

35. David Spataro, activist, Doctoral Candidate, CUNY

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6 comments
  1. Nato Thompson says: October 18, 201311:28 am

    Creative Time and the Brooklyn Museum appreciate the concerns voiced in the open letter. In fact, Suzanne Lacy’s Between the Door and the Street deals with issues of gender justice, including labor, head on. The participants are social activists who were invited to use the project as a platform to advance their work and strengthen their networks through conversations that give voice to restaurant workers, nannies, reproductive-rights proponents, and numerous others. Like much political activism, this project is built upon volunteerism. And as with so much of Lacy’s work, its goal is to promote the cause of social justice.

    Creative Time and the Museum have long histories of supporting artists and providing forums for open dialogue around these and other issues. We look forward to continuing the conversation.

  2. [...] Leina Bocar and two other anonymous performers have authored an open letter to Lacy and Creative Time, asking for payment and “childcare options” for their participation. [...]

  3. Jerry says: October 18, 20133:25 pm

    Are the administrators paid? What about the graphic designer? Are the participants signing a release for film and video? Are the camera people paid? There is a long list of patrons for this performance. Suzanne Lacy is creating a performance piece with participants who have been to rehearsal. The public who attend are the one’s invited to give voice to social justice issues the participants are unpaid employees. I find it ironic that this piece has the point of view that women’s work does not deserve compensation.

  4. [...] Leina Bocar, plus two other participants who wished to remain anonymous, wrote and published an open letter to Lacy, Thompson, and all the organizers. In it, they expressed their dismay that performers in [...]

  5. gregory sholette says: November 5, 201311:10 pm

    The issues raised by this critique are very important, and yet the launching of this critical campaign at the 11th hour prior to the start of an 8 month long socially engaged art project is very troubling. Suzanne Lacy, Nato Thompson, Anne Pasternak, and Creative Time have contributed many years of serious and sustained effort to these very issues of art and labor and social practice. Without question they deserve a more generous engagement from the community they have helped generate and sustain in so many ways. gregory sholette

  6. Leina says: November 15, 20136:01 pm

    I believe we’ve been very generous and respectful in offering Suzanne Lacy, Nato Thompson, Creative Time and Brooklyn Museum feedback and criticism. I first met members from my stoop on October 6, 2013. We issued the letter 10 days later on October 16th and the performance was the 19th. 10 days to mobilize signatures and talk with other activists and performers who were offended by the lack of childcare and payment is a very short amount of time. The so called “11th hour” was due to the artist’s, institutions’ and producers’ lack of prior engagement with performers. I feel the unpaid performers actually deserve better. This critique has opened up space for valuable discussions.

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