Create transformative public artworks in a way that engaged communities and developed a precedent for artistic practice.
Over the course of several months, I worked with several organizations to develop five proposals for artworks, created and proved that a fair artist contract works, completed four works of public art, and raised $12,500 for a site-specific artist in residency program.
A dream for public art and fair artist's work
It's no secret that Boston lacks public art and it's no secret that artists struggle in current economic systems. That's why last year, I embarked on a somewhat crazy quest to raise enough money for a site-specific artist in residency program at Boston University that incorporated fair labor practices into the process. I would call it the Bringing Art to BU Initiative.
I was told I was never going to make it happen. It was said that there is too much inertia or that the idea is too far-reaching. That nobody would agree to fully pay an artist for their work, that nobody would sign a contract for the artist to retain creative rights and resale commission for the work, or be able to lead so many public art projects to completion.
Well, I, and the countless others who helped me along the way, proved them wrong.
With hours of work, a bit of luck, and the support of those who believed in me and my vision, I developed five project ideas, created and proved that a fair artist contract works, and completed four artworks that bring vitality to forgotten spaces, and I raised $12,500 to support it all.
While this hasn't developed into the yearly artist residency that I hoped it would become, in the past year alone, I have seen an immense amount of work by talented and creative artists who are pursuing their own artistic visions. I'm so glad that I could be part of this process. And as always, for fellow artists interested in the process, please reach out to me! I want to share what I have learned.
In order to raise the funds for such a project, I collaborated with several generous and forward-thinking departments and individuals. This includes my very own College of Fine Arts, the Arts Initiative, UROP, the Department of Political Science, the College of General Studies, the College of Arts and Sciences Student Government, the Department of the History of Art and Architecture, the Department of Religion, and EPIC.
I was also supported by the amazing Hugh O'Donnell, Ty Furman, Whitney Newton, and Ramya Ravindrababu and Shanthni Ravindrababu. This would not have happened without you. To those of you who were part of that process, to those who sat and deliberated the merits of the art or who lended a word or two of support, I would like to offer my deepest of thanks.
Alexander Golob. Boston Peace, 2015.
The state of a(rt)ffair
In 1971, activist, conceptual artist, and gallerist Seth Siegelaub—alongside lawyer, Bob Projansky— developed a radical artist's contract that enumerated several rights they believed should be accorded to the artist and their art. These rights included stipulations that the artist would receive a percentage of the re-sale value of their art and retain control of the work’s public exhibition. The most prominent artist to endorse this contract—and one of the few artists to continue using it today—is Hans Haacke.
The importance of Haacke’s commitment to this contract came into clarity when his 1975 art work “On Social Grease” was resold in 1987 for $90,000. As an article from the New York Times describing the sale notes, Haacke made history by enforcing the contract and receiving $10,000 from that resale. This is for a work that, when created, was sold for $15,000. For the first time, the artist received fair compensation for the market appreciation of their hard-earned work.
The artist’s contract was born out of frustration and desperation. For artists, the idea of the “starving artist” is not a notion of romanticism, but rather a landscape of condemnation. Accepting the “starving artist” archetype represents the underpinning belief that artists are not meant to seek wealth—or even subsistence—through their work. They—we—are meant to struggle to find divine inspiration and work thanklessly, often in living conditions far worse than those who enjoy our art. The artist’s contract contested this established ideal, stating; "we want our fair share."
Though the creation of such a contract was a significant step forward, it failed to enter the mainstream. The current state of affairs has become even more severe for artists than it was in the 1970s. For artists in the United States, a Bachelor’s degree—and often a Master’s degree—are arguably prerequisites to developing adequate professional networks and prestige to be considered a “fine artist". While it is already a problem that there are institutional hurdles for creative expression to be valued, this situation is severely exacerbated by the college tuition at both public and private universities ballooning at rates that surpass that of both medical care and oil costs. Today, on average, four years of education at a private university costs a quarter of a million dollars.
Economically, the situation is frequently exacerbated when artists undercut each other by offering slightly cheaper—and thus potentially more competitive—works for sale. While this scenario may help a few artists in the short term, collectively, it results in a race to the bottom where artists deflate each-others' wages and make it increasingly difficult to make a living fulfilling artistic passion.
These conditions aren't just about fair artistic practice; they are about good art. Not all people who have the potential to create ground-breakingly critical and deeply moving art are willing—or financially able—to go for long periods of time with multiple supplementary jobs, low pay, and little job security. When we—as a society— create a system where artists are unable to commit to their work, we all suffer.
These experiences are ones that I relate to at a deep level. I am graduating with student-loan debt and I have been forced to lose wages because of downward pressure from fellow artists . The conflict between these two realities has pushed me to search for a solution for myself and for fellow artists. The established structure can feel insurmountable, but change happens from the ground-up; that is why I set off on a mission to challenge current systems, prove that fair-art practices work, and provide a model that will help with countless other artists and creatives.
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