Caroline Woolard Statements, 2013.
Photo : courtesy of the artist

Neither Artist Nor Worker

Marc James Léger
Contemporary artists and activists are developing practices to improve the living and working conditions of artists under neoliberal capitalism. The post-Fordist shift toward an information and service economy has led to precarious working conditions for the majority of artists, whose practices have been “flexibilized” as unpaid project work or whose labour is devalued as part of an expanding “second economy” of relatively unknown cultural producers. This precarization of labour takes place in the midst of an ongoing museum boom, a $45 billion global art market, and a creative economy worth $763 billion annually in the United States. In Canada, culture’s contribution to the GDP was $48 billion in 2010, up from around $40 million in 2001.

In response to economic insecurity, there is of course a history of government and philanthropic support for culture. After the Depression and the Second World War, Western governments began to integrate the arts into the welfare state and to develop cultural policies based on the belief that culture should not be sacrificed to free market principles. Since the 1990s, however, the idea of protecting culture from market forces has been almost completely reversed, with creative industry policies now leading the way in the development of newmarkets.1 1 - See for example the speech by Mélanie Joly, Minister of Canadian Heritage, “Creative Industries: Exploiting the Potential of New Markets,” at the Montreal Council on Foreign Relations, April 17, 2017, <corim.qc.ca/en/event/762>, and <bit.ly/2IhLyys>. On the subject of creative industries policy, see Marc James Léger, “The Non-Productive Role of the Artist: The Creative Industries in Canada,” Third Text 24, no. 5 (September 2010): 557 — 70.

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This article also appears in the issue 94 - Labour

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