When artists give away their time and work for free, they serve to devalue the importance creative work has in our lives.
A recent article in Canada's the Globe and Mail has garnered lots of attention: When Iggy Pop can't live off his work and art, what chance do the rest of us have? While it poses questions about the moral dividing line of digital downloading, the larger issue is one of compensation for real value. How much do we value art? Creativity? Ideas? How much are we willing to pay for these things? According to Iggy Pop, "When it comes to art, money is an unimportant detail. It just happens to be a huge unimportant detail."
Of course, artists have a real role in how they define the value of their own work. Years ago, there was a magazine here in town that claimed the main "payment" for its writers was prestige and exposure. Meanwhile, the magazine sold the other side of those written "prestige" pages for big ad dollars. Someone was making money, and it certainly wasn't the writers. The new writers may have longed for the exposure, but by donating work to a for-profit magazine, they only served to devalue the work of all writers everywhere.
Just last week an organization called Working Artists and the Greater Economy (WAGE) set a standard for certification they hope will become influential in setting fair wages for artists all over the country. Arts organizations that are WAGE-certified agree to pay artists minimum fees based on the organization's income and expenses. WAGE lays out pay rates for everything from solo ehibitions to seminars.
For example, a lecture/workshop/seminar fee for an organization with $500,000 annual operating expenses would be a minimum of $250, while organizations with at least $5,000,000 in annual operating expenses would be required to pay at least $2,500 for the service.
This is a far cry from what TEDx pays for its speakers, which is nothing. Zero. Last year, an artist took to Medium to express why he won't speak for free at any TEDx event.
The defence that TED is a non-profit organisation doesn’t fly with me. I doubt this excuses them from paying the lighting guys, the camera operators, the venue hire, the catering. Why pay those staff but not the speakers? Just because you’re a non-profit organisation, doesn’t mean I have to be.
I’m not averse to speaking for nothing. I’ve done Cafe Scientifique, SciBar, Skeptics In The Pub. I’ve spoken at schools, colleges, universities. None of these were satellite events for a $6,000-a-plate conference. None of them wanted to brand my talk as theirs.
There's an argument that not everything has to be commodified, especially art and creativity. When art is for the public good, for example, what is wrong with giving it away for free? The problem then is that it becomes unpaid labor, an exchange mostly reserved for the privileged and elite. The problem then is it becomes more about personal prestige—an exchange of personal time and labor for a social position—than about the importance art, ideas, and creativity have to our livelihood. The problem then is that it is exploitation, and it makes art have lesser value than, say, some ephemeral plastic organizing container we buy at Target.
Yes, organizations have a role in defining how much they will actually pay for an artist's work. But by continuing to give it away for virtually free, we only serve to give more value to the things that don't matter. And we help reinforce the wrongheaded idea that art and creativity are hobbies, not something that has real value to our communities.
Earlier this week, the World Wildlife Fund came out with some startling numbers: The earth has lost 50 percent of its wildlife in the last 40 years. Due to climate change, exploitation, habitat loss, and habitat degradation—such as deforestation for palm oil and other materials—wildlife is declining at an alarming pace.
Some species of marine and land animal populations have fallen between 40 and 80 percent since 1970, with the most drastic decline seen in developing nations where rainforests and oceans have been wiped near clean due to global food demand and a lack of conservation efforts.
In a nutshell: From trees to fish to water, we're sucking up the world's resources faster than ever before. And no magic wand or Noah's Ark is going to replace it.
From the Guardian:
The report concludes that today’s average global rate of consumption would need 1.5 planet Earths to sustain it. But four planets would be required to sustain US levels of consumption...
What do you think your global footprint is? What is your average rate of consumption? 1 earth? 2 earths? 4 earths? You might be surprised. Check out this footprint calculator from the WWF. It's a five-minute test that shows you the impact your living habits have on your footprint. (Note: This is for the UK, but you can still get a snapshot of your impact.) If the world were full of "mes", we would use a shameful 3.0 planets, or twice as much as the rest of the world, which is way more than I expected.
You can also use this calculator from the Global Footprint Network to measure how many earths it takes to support your lifestyle, but one caveat: The avatar and music are annoying. Still, it's short, and worth it for the revelation.
About 15 years ago, in between contemplating being a meteorologist and a fire fighter and a whale watcher, I told someone I wanted to be a "freelance writer." I wasn't even quite sure what that was, but I knew at least a few things about it: It was creative work; I could write for a living; I could build my own hours; and I could build my own life. I'm pretty sure they laughed, and then we both went back to work delivering cold Shepherd's Pie.
Now, freelancers are becoming the norm, as more and more people shift out of the 9-5 desk job in favor of a contract-to-contract at-home gig. According to a new report by Freelancers Union and Elance-O Desk, 53 million Americans, or 34 percent of the U.S. workforce, are working in some capacity as freelancers. The survey defines freelancers as “individuals who have engaged in supplemental, temporary, or project- or contract-based work in the past 12 months.”
Of course, part of the reason freelancers have become the newest, growing workforce is because the economy tanked. Unemployment rose during the recent recession, peaking at about 10 percent in 2009. There simply weren't enough jobs to be had. As job insecurity reached a fevered pitch, people were forced to diversify their income portfolio by adding contract gigs or after-hours work.
The flip side of that freelance coin, though, is that nearly 8 in 10 freelancers report making the same amount of money than they did before they started freelancing. And 42 percent say they make more than before.
The increase in money and freedom could by why freelancers report being so happy with their jobs. In quite the timely study-release fashion, Minneapolis-based Field Nation, a company that connects organizations with independent contractors, released a survey earlier this month revealing that 97 percent of respondents report being satisfied or extremely satisfied with their jobs as independent contractors.
While those numbers may be slightly skewed, based on 846 total respondents, they're in stark contrast to how the rest of the country rates job satisfaction. Fewer than half of American workers report being satisfied with their jobs.
Companies are noticing the benefits freelancing provides, too. According to Workforce 2020, a global study released last week by Oxford Economics, 83 percent of executives say they will be increasing the use of contingent, intermittent, or consultant employees to accommodate resource gaps and rapidly changing business demands.
Does that mean you should quit your job and start freelancing? Maybe not just yet. For one thing, the competition is fierce. In the age of new entrepreneurship, the number of freelancers is likely to reach more than 70 million, or more than 40 percent of the U.S. workforce, by 2020.
Employers should take note, however. If you want to attract and hold on to full-time talent, compensation is what matters most, according to Workforce 2020 findings. Retirement plans, flexibility, and time-off rank way higher than amenities such as fitness centers, daycare, and subsidized food. In other words, the ability to live like a freelancer matters.
The number of single people continues to rise in the Twin Cities. But if current trends are any indication, many of them won't be able afford to stay in the city.
The words "family-friendly" have always made me feel a little bit uncomfortable. Not because of their thinly veiled connections to, say, church pews and Jesus-themed goldfish tosses. But because it's a phrase so often thrown around and embraced it's easy to think "family-friendly" is the majority rule rather than less than half of the equation. In fact, if event-goers were looking to court more people, they should be going after the New Single. Or, to be fair, The New Independent.
A few weeks ago, I wrote about the changing face of Minnesota, noting that "married-couple families" continue to be on the decline while "householders living alone" (28 percent of all Minnesota households) are on the upswing, according to the latest Census figures.
It's part of a national trend that doesn't show any sign of slowing down, if the numbers released this week from the Bureau of Labor Statistics are any indication. For the first time since the organization began collecting data in 1976, "single Americans" now make up more than half of the adult population, totaling 50.2 percent, up from 37 percent in 1976.
Are the Twin Cities prepared for the contiuned growth spurt of singles? It depends on how much money they make.
According to the latest data from the Joint Center for Housing Studies at Harvard University, single persons make up 35 percent of the total rental market share, accounting for the majority of renters. Yet while rental prices continue to rise, income and wages have actually decreased over the last decade. In Minneapolis, the average price of a two-bedroom apartment has reached $1,000, and it contiues to climb, putting a squeeze on rent to income ratios.
What's more, the Twin Cities have one of the lowest metro area vacancy rates in the country, hovering at around 2.7 percent. It's improved ever-so-slightly over the last year as development increases, yet the majority of the new apartments on the market are hyper-swank luxury downtown spaces, way out of the price range for low- to middle-income singles.
Then there's the issue of a single income—and single women, especially mothers with extra mouths to feed, still aren't faring well. According the AAUW, median earnings for men in Minnesota in 2012 were $50,885 compared to women’s median earnings of $40,595 —an earnings ratio of just 80 percent.
Of course, this doesn't mean that single women should feel completely left out in the cold (literally) by the income gap and luxury market trend. (This could take up another whole 257 blog posts about gender/race disparities in the Twin Cities.)
Yet if we're focusing on the sudden spike in the single population, it's worth watching how singles, especially women, are impacted as rental and home prices continue to climb upward, developers cater to the affluent, and wealthy dime store Ryan Gosslings seem to multiply like Gremlins and trample sockless all over the Twin Cities landscape. In five years from now, how will typical single people—a growing majority of residents—with average or below-average incomes fare?
This summer I had a series of incredibly strange and uncomfortable relationships with people I've never met.
They were all with people who rented out my home on AirBnB.
The relationships start out awkward right at the doorway. That's because my three-season porch is less of a watch-the-clouds-go-by spot than it is a storage area for bikes and shovels and private mouse parties that begin the first cool day of every fall. When strangers come to my house after renting it out on AirBnB, it's the first thing they notice. The clutter-filled doorway to my life.
The strange relationship becomes more intimate when people come inside and begin scanning the room for evidence. I suppose not all of them notice the cremated cat and dog wrapped in dusty blue velvet boxes that sit forever untouched on top of the book case. But they probably notice the paw prints in plaster dotting the top of the dining room buffet. Their eyes probably scan the book shelves, filled with telltale "Manage Your Money and Your Life!" titles that stand out like articles of goth clothing.
Their eyes probably land on Sammy, the pet rock I've had since first grade, a smug jerk revealed in aged limestone. And they probably notice the strange artwork, six hand-painted plates by artist Andy Sturdevant that depict the faces of corporate CEOs, my own subversive comment on homeownership and bills.
In most cases, we never meet. But we can create dramatic readings of each other's lives based on tiny bios and the things we leave behind.
Here are some of the private things people have left behind for me, creating an exchange of deep, uneasy intimacy without ever meeting.
1. Stranger cake: Two pieces were gone from this left-behind made-from-scratch buttercream cake, so it was less a gift than a planning accident. Officially known as "The Stranger Cake," I shared the leftovers with friends in honor of our newfound trust in strangers.
3. Kids' drawings: For two weeks after one family left, random pen drawings of alien-like creatures with electric-tower arms revealed themselves like foreign currency notes.
3. "I love you" ballon: Part of a gift to a daughter for graduation, this helium ballon stayed tied to the back of a chair for two months, dancing around in the open window and creating new strange stories for the next rental family to interpret.
4. Lots of Amazon boxes, with my address on them: For a post-wedding party of close family members, a random stranger apparently had a huge moment in my house that will live with them forever. They even had the joy of having presents to delivered to their door, my door. When I returned home from visiting my family, I ordered a pizza. It also came in a box with my name on it.
5. Half-empty wine bottles: LIke the stranger cake, this is also less of gift than a case of poor planning. But that didn't stop me from drinking the leftovers and toasting our new, awkward stranger exchange.
6. Tofu: This was a part of an actual gift, based on someone's interpretation of what I would like to eat, which they gleaned from the uneaten hippie leftovers in my fridge. (There's a reason I didn't finish that organic tempeh.)
7. Flowers. Lots and lots of flowers: Given as gifts to one of the renters, the flowers were too much to be carried across state. That meant that six giant, glorious bouquets were left behind on my birthday, a purely accidental yet serendipitous present from a stranger.
8. Men's XL button-down shirt (stained), left by two small women: Maybe one of them had an overnight guest. Or maybe movies and catalogs aren't giant liars and and some women really do wear oversized men's shirts to bed. I like to think of it as another gift: Three brand-new dust cloths, used to prepare for the next guest.
9. A train-themed baby blanket: Decorated with stains and tiny, smiling trains, this miniature blanket held real meaning for someone, I was sure. But when I emailed the former renter about it, they told me to "go ahead and keep it."
What do these things left behind say about us? About our relationships? About sharing a home with strangers? While AirBnB is a smart way to make extra money on my under-water home when I am traveling, I still haven't quite reached a comfort level with sharing Sammy the jerk rock and a liftetime of too-talkative junk with strangers.