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PWB + Future Interns + Ragpickers // All We Want for X-Mas is Pay (Serpentine Gallery, London)

December 17, 2013

Photograph: Sara Gharsalli

via Libby Page  for the Guardian

Visitors to the Serpentine Gallery in London were met by an unusual sight at the weekend: students and graduates dressed as Father Christmas, protesting against a gallery advert for unpaid work.

The group of white-bearded protesters held a banner that read: “All we want for xmas is pay.” They handed out scrolls to members of the public, which contained the original advertisement, plus the protesters’ comments about why they felt the role should be paid. One said: “If you contribute to the running of an organisation, you are entitled to national minimum wage.”

Following the protest, the Serpentine Gallery have admitted it is in the wrong, saying: “The points you make are valid and we have listened to your protest. We take our responsibility as employers very seriously, and this advertisement is not in line with our current terms on volunteer placements.” […]

“Since we have been campaigning against unpaid internships, people have been sending us adverts that they have seen,” says Fairooz Aniqa, another member of Future Interns and an organiser of the protest.

“We thought that this was a particularly bad one that seemed like it should be paid because it outlined the role.”

As well as the festive protest, the Precarious Workers Brigade (PWB), who also campaign against unpaid internships, sent a letter to the Serpentine Gallery explaining why they felt the voluntary role advertised warranted the national minimum wage. […]


Photograph: Andrey Shental

via PWB

Dear Serpentine Management, we have recently been made aware that you are advertising 3 month volunteer placements…

From: Precarious Workers Brigade <>
Date: 13 December 2013 12:55:34 GMT
Subject: Unpaid Volunteer Positions

Dear Serpentine Management,

We have recently been made aware that you are advertising 3 month volunteer placements at the Serpentine in the Co-Director’s Office (5 days a week), in the Public Programmes Department (2 days a week) and in the Individual Giving team (3 days a week).

We understand the pressures publicly funded, non-profit arts organisations are under and we salute you for taking the time and effort to mentor and train people wanting to work in the arts sector.

However, we are concerned that by not paying people, only those who can afford to work for free will be able to benefit from volunteering at the Serpentine, gain experience in these areas of work and therefore pursue a career in the sector.

Your adverts request individuals who are “reliable, full of initiative and who can demonstrate a keen interest in being involved in this exciting programme.” They also suggest a certain skill level, such as “Previous experience with artists, or in an arts organisations, or in adult learning programmes desirable.”  (Public Programme Volunteer placement).

It is clear that the job requires previous experience and some expertise in the area. While as a charity it is not a legal necessity that you pay what are described as ‘volunteers’ many in the sector have acknowledged the exploitative implications of taking advantage of this legal loophole and not paying young workers who clearly fulfill necessary, vital and in many cases, formerly paid positions within organisations. We know that interns at the Serpentine Gallery put in many hours of work and take on great responsibilities. We know that they also gain great experiences. However allowing only those who can afford to work without compensation to gain such experiences has grave implications for  a sector already often accused of elitism and at risk of losing the moderate movements towards diversity in the sector.

We are aware that the Serpentine is an educational charity and therefore would suggest that creating fair, equitable and compensated learning activities would be in keeping with this mandate. Demonstrating unfair employment practices does in fact contradicts your constitution as an educational arts charity.

Along with others, our groups – who include past, current and future interns –  have been campaigning for fair pay for interns in the arts sector for many years. As a result many arts institutions – including those much smaller and poorer than the Serpentine – have created policies against unpaid internships.

We strongly encourage the Serpentine to adopt such a policy. Over the coming months we will be engaging in a series of targeted actions at yours and other institutions to encourage the creation of such a policy. We will be examining and exposing pay inequities to the public to ensure that these issues are publicised and addressed. We welcome knowledge of any changes undertaken at your institution to create fairer working and compensation practices for interns.

There’s lots of information out there that might help you develop a new and more equitable approach to working with those who wish to develop a career in the sector. Here are a few links:

Art Council England’s guidelines Internships in the Arts:

The Carrotworkers’ Collective’s Counter Guide to Free Labour in the Arts

Intern Aware:
Artquest’s Intern Culture report:

And: Precarious Workers Brigade

We look forward to your response.

Yours truly,

Precarious Workers Brigade
Future Interns

#payinterns #futureinterns

Serpentine Gallery’s response to PWB letter and FI action (before and after)

post-protest response:

Date:  Mon, 16 Dec 2013 10:57:53 -0000 [10:57:53 UTC]

From:Rose Dempsey <>

To:Precarious Workers Brigade <>

Cc:Julia Peyton-Jones <>, Gwen Barry <>, Hans Ulrich Obrist <>, Rose Dempsey <>

Subject:  RE: Unpaid Volunteer Positions Dear Precarious Workers Brigade,

Thank you for bringing this advertisement to our attention.

The points you make in your letter to us are valid and we have listened to your protest.

We take our responsibility as employers very seriously and this advertisement is not in line with our current terms on Volunteer placements.

We will be addressing the issues you raise immediately.

Yours sincerely,
Rose Dempsey


pre-protest response:

Date:  Fri, 13 Dec 2013 13:38:54 +0000 [12/13/13 13:38:54 UTC]

From:Robertta Marques HR Assistant <>

To:Precarious Workers Brigade <>, Gwen Barry <>, <>, Hans Ulrich Obrist <>, Rose Dempsey <>

Subject:  RE: Unpaid Volunteer Positions Dear Precarious Workers Brigade,

Thank you for your email. The Serpentine is a charitable arts organization showcasing arts for everyone free of charge. All volunteers are reimbursed travel and food expenses, volunteer roles require much less commitment than an internship and are not core roles that we would otherwise have in the organisation. Often these roles give people the experience they require as part of their personal development. We often take volunteers without previous experience and skills are presented merely as suggestions to candidates. Alongside open calls, we have been also working closely with Access ( as another way to increase diversity and offer meaningful experiences.

We do not require that those applying for any volunteer roles work 5 days a week it’s an option to work up to 5 days a week , indeed many of the volunteers we have work much less – depending on their study/commitments. The volunteers commitment days are flexible and the schedule will be determined according to volunteers availability. Some Gallery Assistants (undertaking paid roles working  in the visitor services team) have taken the opportunity to gain experience within different departments by volunteering on an ad hoc basis to enable them to make decisions about the direction of their future careers. We are open minded about peoples propositions and would look at ways of accommodating any requests – to keep access to these opportunities as open as possible.

As HR Assistant I started at the organization as a volunteer and I am now employed here – following my application for a role.  We currently have many employees that started that way. I am glad to answer any other question you might have.

Kind regards,

Robertta Marques
HR Assistant
Serpentine Gallery
Direct: 020 7298 7564

via Dalya Alberge for the Independent

The two co-directors of the Serpentine Gallery, a registered charity, were paid at least 45 per cent more last year than in 2011, The Independent has learnt.

Julia Peyton-Jones’s package puts her among the highest-paid directors of any arts institution, despite the Serpentine being relatively small and the sector as a whole being affected by significant funding cuts. Her earnings, including bonus and other benefits, rose by approximately 60 per cent to between £140,000 and £150,000, according to the latest 2012 published accounts.

The figures were revealed by leading arts commentator David Lee, prompting him to launch a devastating attack on the gallery. Mr Lee said that Ms Peyton-Jones is only running “a small gallery in a former tearoom” in Hyde Park, which does not even have its own collection.

Ms Peyton-Jones’s package exceeds the £140,000 paid to National Gallery director Nicholas Penny, who presides over a world class collection and international scholarly exhibitions and approaches that of the Tate’s director, Nicholas Serota, who manages a vast collection on a salary and benefits deal of around £160,000. He declined a 2012 bonus “in view of the pay freeze” at the institution.

The Serpentine’s co-director Hans-Ulrich Obrist, although not listed as a company director in the accounts, also saw his package  increase from at least £80,000 to within the range of £120,000 to £130,000 in 2012.

Mr Lee also criticised the Arts Council, which he said had “screamed hourly” in 2011 that it was losing over 30 per cent of its taxpayer subsidy and warning of “hard choices” ahead. Its choice was to abolish grants to some 200 organisations, making many redundant. The Serpentine, however, was awarded special status as a “regularly funded organisation”. The Serpentine gets around £1.2m from the Arts Council, about a fifth of the gallery’s costs.


Here you can read a day in the life of Julia Peyton-Jones courtesy of “How to Spend It” – Obviously hers is a terribly hard job!

You can help keep up the pressure on The Serpentine by sending an email with your concerns about their use of unpaid labour!

Gwen Barry, Head of Human Resources

Julia Peyton-Jones
Director, Serpentine Gallery
and Co-Director, Exhibitions and Programmes

Hans Ulrich Obrist
Co-Director, Exhibitions and Programmes
and Director of International Projects

Rose Dempsey
Head of Communications

3 Comments leave one →
  1. December 19, 2013 11:19 AM

    Reblogged this on theresa easton and commented:
    PWB showing it how it should be done!


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