What else is possible? What is my worth as an artist?

At the “Independence” Within an “Industry” session at #ATF2015, I raised the point of currency. I wondered about how we could redefine currency in the way we work.

I get it though: we do need to pay our rent and bills – of which exist in an economic world that we cannot avoid. And I must, at this point, acknowledge the privilege that I do have a husband, who at the moment is earning a full-time wage as a contracted company member at a major company on a national level, who is paying for the bulk of our financial responsibilities. (All the more why I am intensively exploring what my livelihood should look like in the long-term!)

But between ourselves, how else can we trade?

(Perhaps what I am perplexed about, is why do we keep trying to earn money from each other, when we already have minimal incomes, and minimal cash flow to begin with?)

More so, how can we enable each other to extend our practices? How can we help each other scale up through a quality exchange?

On Tuesday, I attended the first of six training sessions with Leisa Shelton. I am preparing for a show. I am needing to shift my head space from administration to practice, from producer to performer; I need to return to a space of receptivity, and check in with my body, as I gear up for the season at Theatre Works.

I need to train.

Considering I haven’t had a steady income in the last year, I couldn’t/can’t afford the whole sum. What eventuated is a discounted rate, and a commission for two pieces of reflective writing in exchange – one for the training series, another for a project that Leisa is curating.

She receives a thoughtful documentation for her work. I train, and more than that, am invited into a space of other artists and their practices. And I add on to my body of writing.

Today, I met with the artistic director of a small-ish theatre company. I shall not disclose details, as they have yet to be finalised between both parties. This conversation though, was a direct outcome of the proposition I made at #ATF2015!

I need space to do my last bit of development. I need space to have rehearsals before the season starts. What does this company need?

With them, it’s quite different. Their needs are organisational, administrative, and managerial. They are looking for new audience development strategies and the day-to-day execution and resources in that area. So I am proposing working closely with the team to develop and implement templates and structures to follow through, something that they should be able to sustain once the period of exchange and agreement is over.

(I should note that I do actually service small businesses outside of the arts at a professional freelance capacity, and so am equipped and skilled to offer this to said theatre company.)

We will nut out the details and work out what is fair. I take personal responsibility to be transparent, and to be firm with not over-committing. But I am committed to exchanging work that will be effective in the long-term.

This means that the exchange may not be as straightforward in terms of an hour to hour value. Offering me a space allows me to platform my performance work to the next level; my offer to them should enable them to take their work to the next level as well, and clocking in and out on the hour is not necessarily the answer.

I was very excited by their willingness to take this exchange on board. And more so, to keep the longer-term possibilities open for discussion. We had a brief chat about eventually wanting to hire someone – and discussed how existing part-time roles in organisations are often a little too rigid in terms of contact hours, and are not necessarily all that mutually effective.

I do know peers who are in positions where they have worked out an agreement with the organisations they work with to accommodate their touring dates – and that is fantastic – but I wonder about the actual office hours efficiency.

In the vein of rethinking models for arts organisations, arts organisations unfortunately do fall behind in a world of remote working possibilities, and multiple online platforms and current technology to drive discussion, meeting, and project planning.

On a peer level, I am currently working with Sara – facilitating her process of getting back into making work. She pays for brunch when we have our monthly catch-ups. She has access to a dedicated workspace out of the city which she is committing to using once or twice a month later on, and she has offered to have our meetings there sometimes, so that I can benefit from a private space away from home too. This excites me!

It is a relationship. And it is, at the heart of why we are in the arts; a human to human interaction; helping another person with a skill you have, with passion and service; providing innovative ways to look at the world. (This was recently reaffirmed in the first lesson of an online course that I enrolled in with The Happy Start Up School; more on that soon.)

I do believe in monetising our work; I just don’t believe that we should be looking to other artists as our main source of income; hence the investigation with start up models and practices.

And it is a conversation.

It is about our community.

At TPSnomad, Tessa Zettel ran a found-food dinner during our week in Narrendera. In the days leading up to that evening, we had to find ways to gather the produce without money. Megan Cope traded hours at a fruit and veggie shop; Lee Wilson and Michael Petchkovsky picked up roadkill; Latai Taumoepeau and Benji Ra danced in the bakery; Diego Bonnetto taught us to look for edible weeds; Sophea Lerner exchanged her composting knowledge for vegetables from the community garden…

I want to add that Leisa Shelton is very much also already driving this conversation in her own practice, facilitating exchanges of these sorts with other artists.

There are many of us who are already dealing in this way, if we aren’t already thinking it.

So go ahead and start the conversation. And please, feel free to speak with me or any of the artists mentioned in this post if you’re curious, excited, and want in on this (alternative) work culture.

More importantly, let us keep asking, “what else is possible?”

ps. today’s work was done at the City Library’s quiet room.

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