While we have seen an increased focus on the working conditions of visual artists lately, real change is lacking behind. In UKK we believe that we need a cultural change, where more actors feel and take responsibility for moving our sector in the right direction.
As documented in two reports by economist Trine Bille (1, 2), visual artists are among the poorest working groups in Denmark. And during the covid-19 pandemic, UNESCO estimates 10 million jobs were lost in creative industries globally. In what follows, we highlight two cases, where established institutions do not live up to their responsibility and leadership, and then propose a path going forward.
PLATFORM, a project by Nikolaj Kunsthal, has been marketed as a stepping stone for newly graduated artists and curators. During the coming three years, 18 teams of one artist and one curator are invited to produce a solo exhibition in a 60sq meter space. This entails exhibiting existing or new work, as well as doing an artist talk. The project has received 1.5 million DKK from the private foundation Det Obelske Familiefond. Of that only 360.000 is allocated in fees for the 36 artists and curators producing the content for PLATFORM (10.000 pr. person). Considering the large amount of work that goes into making a solo exhibition and the preparations for an artist talk, this simply is not enough.
In a related case GL STRAND published an open call for the project @Læderstræde, where applicants will receive 100.000DKK as a “concept fee”. This is also marketed towards “younger artists and curators”. For this fee they are expected to conceptualize, fundraise and operate a project space for 1 year starting September 1st, 2022. The space is expected to be open from Wednesday to Saturday, 13-17. This alone is 16 hours pr. week, amounting to approximately 800 hours (125DKK pr. hour) for the entire period and leaves no budget for conceptualizing, fees for artists and curators, and production of exhibitions.
UKK has been in dialogue with Nikolaj Kunsthal and GL STRAND and expressed our worry as well as input to help change these initiatives for the better. We do of course welcome any and all initiatives to support and help recently graduated as well as all other artists and curators in Denmark. But such initiatives do need to meet certain standards in terms of the working conditions they offer. Especially when working with newly graduated artists, our field as a whole, bears a responsibility in teaching them how to negotiate fees and contracts, calculate the amount of working hours a given project will demand of them and everything else operating as a free agent on a market entails.
In response we are now developing a guide for institutions, foundations and other actors that wish to provide better support for artists and curators. Please also view our recommendations for minimum fees here.
While regulation and policy is often mentioned as the sole manner in which this tendency can be broken, we believe that we need a change in culture and leadership at large, where the work by artists and curators is valued and fairly compensated. Everyone has a responsibility in working towards this. Simply stating that it is the sole responsibility of politicians and regulators, directors of institutions, the artists and curators themselves or private and public foundations, will never bring about this change. Everyone has to think hard about how they can contribute to changing this from their position in the now, as well as in the long run.
As part of the current negotiations around state-supported media in Denmark, the Ministry of Culture writes that “Grant recipients are to abide by contract- and agreement-like working conditions”. If that will be the case, then why can’t we expect the same from state-funded cultural institutions?
You are among the most important actors, if we are to see real change in terms of how we work together in the field of art and prioritize our economic resources. We would like to assist and help you in becoming better at providing proper support and working conditions for artists and curators, so do reach out to us.
We have been in dialogue with several private foundations, all of whom clearly express that they are indeed aware of this problem, and would like to help in whatever way they can. None of them however have a clear policy stating exactly how much artists or curators should be paid, why this decision is left to applicants, their priorities and collaboration with artists and curators. We encourage all foundations to consider how they can help and we would like to provide feedback on any ideas and initiatives.
To our members, we would like to hear from you, as to how you would like institutions to approach you? What kind of support or opportunity would you like to receive? Have you had experiences with institutions that succeeded in providing proper working conditions and possibility for you to develop and explore? And if you do experience working conditions that are lacking, please reach out to us.
To view our guide, follow this link.