Open Letters 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.
Leina Bocar ( performer )
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 Jahod, professor at UMASS Amherst , Rethinking Marxism Collective
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.
Creative Time and the Brooklyn Museum take seriously the issue of paying artists for their labor. Click here to see Creative Time and the Brooklyn Museum’s response to the open letter, and click here to go to Nato Thompson’s Facebook page, where the issue is being actively discussed.
Sue Yellin: My thoughts on “between the Door and the Street” and volunteerism
I volunteered for this project initially because someone in our theater group had been hired to produce it.. sound idea, bringing all these people together, letting the public in to interact ,why not give a few hours to the cause…after a flurry of instruction emails and reminders of the briefing taking place the week before the event, I thought about all the work which had already gone on. Last Saturday at our briefing I thought “wow what a lot of staff, papers, instructions” but I was still in the game. I reacted when one of the organizers said that they had no money for day-care for the women who were participating(gee maybe if they took the money which was being spent on stuff, paper, badges, etc they could hire some day care people..) On Sunday I was told by the producer that she was told they’d run out of money and could she volunteer her time, which she rightly turned down..
Now to the big day.. a lot of down time, where we sat or stood around doing nothing, getting the same briefings, listening to the same staff which included volunteer coordinators, AD’s, asst AD’s, stoop directors, stoop guardians, way-finders … WHAT A LOT OF PEOPLE! my stoop had 4 participants instead of the 10 which was mentioned in our paperwork.. they started a conversation which was aided by a talking talisman,so I really had nothing to do but stand there and every 10 minutes or so tell the directors and AD’s that all was well. When the street was opened up that’s when the problems came up. the people from the street could not hear what the stoop people were saying, the people from the street did not know what group they were listening to. they wandered around looking very lost.(At least a hundred people lifted my badge to see what group I was guarding).there were signs up when we first arrived but they were taken down for the sake of ” spontaneity”..
I left as soon as the socializing began. I’d been on my feet for 6 hours and frankly was feeling very used…I remember wondering who got paid for this and who didn’t by the article above and my comments I think we can say who didn’t..
In my defense I will say that I’m retired and having been an activist all my life want to keep my foot in, however, we are sometimes too quick to jump into things without seeing the bigger picture.. How many care-givers could have been hired with the money which went to buy the hundreds of YELLOW SCARVES???
My business card reads “professional volunteer” and I try to work at things where I can make a difference. Having said that, I realize that being a volunteer at the Brooklyn Visitors Center two days a week helps visitors to Brooklyn navigate around and would not exist without the group of volunteers who man it. We must learn to distinguish from helping for the greater good and helping a few to make money on the backs of others..
My helping serve food at a theater production or taking signatures for a political candidate I am supporting is one thing. Being exploited in any way, shape, form is another.I’d love to know how others feel about this.
I am sincerely; sue yelling (professional volunteer,stoop guardian )