Saturday, July 9, 2011

Donate Profits or Pay the Artists?

Yesterday I wrote about the down side of charity auctions and being an artist.  Today I'll address an issue which has come up as I've been working on the performance series, Beyond Barbie.

In doing the work to plan the series, I've been interested to find that people sometimes ask me which non-profit we'll be giving our proceeds to.   When I tell them that the profits will be divided among the performers, they are sometimes surprised.  I think they feel that a project with this sort of emphasis on women's issues should support women's charities or other good causes.

I can understand their feelings.  I also strongly believe that artists should be supported for the work they do.  And this project is being put on primarily by artists and performers who are giving of their time and talent to entertain, inform, and engage audience members who will attend.  It's an interesting concept to think that we should donate our proceeds to non-profits instead of use that income to support ourselves and our art, much of which is helping change the world in ways non-profits typically do. 

Just to bring it into focus personally, in January I chose to quit my well-paying job so that I could pursue my art full time because I have a passion to change how people feel about women's bodies and the way the media portrays us.  I don't have anyone paying me for this work.  I have to raise my own salary through perseverance and dedication to my ideals.  I am spending 25-35 hours/week to put on this series while also preparing for my own huge art show, Not Barbie.  I don't have another source of income, so to be able to do this, I need to get compensated.  If I don't, I simply can't afford to do it.

A woman wrote me expressing her desire that we should give 50% of our profits after expenses to a [very excellent, well-respected, very deserving] local charity.  Here is what I responded to her:

I can certainly understand your desire to help make a difference to nonprofit agencies in the area.  I am aligned with that, for sure.  I also believe that artists deserve to get paid for the work they do, and the artists involved in Beyond Barbie are working very hard to make a difference just as folks in non-profits do.

 My belief is that artists are a vital part of any civilization.  Artists help others become aware of the status quo and what about it needs to change.  If you think about any era of civilization, from the ancient to the present, you probably think about the art from that time, because it is the art that shows us what we need to know about the civilization.

Artists rarely get funding from the government or from private foundations.  They work behind the scenes, often living close to the edge because their commitment to their art is strong enough that they must do it, regardless of the cost.  Artists have a vision and work to realize it.  That is really no different than what non-profits do.  For example, I want to change how women feel about their bodies - I want advertisers to change how they portray women - I want to help us all accept our differences and give up judgment of others.  Those are laudable efforts.  I could incorporate into a non-profit, come up with a mission statement, rent an office, hire workers, and work in many ways to get this message across.  Instead I am choosing to get my message across through my paintings and through this series.  Is that any less effective than what a non-profit would do?  or any less worthy of support?

The night of our series on Birth - women will be telling their stories and sharing their joys and heartaches.  Those stories, more than anything else I can think of, will effectively help women see that they have a choice in birthing options and that all can be good.  It can lead to healing for those women whose births were less than what they wished they would be.  Counseling could help them.  Support groups could help.  And I believe that this night of storytelling and sharing their own experiences will do a world of good, even without a non-profit.

The night on Abuse - we will have professional storytellers (Megan Hicks and Linda Goodman) there who have put their hearts and souls into creating stories about abuse with the intention of helping people understand what abuse is and how it affects people, and to give them hope for healing.  Yes, [the charity you're recommending] is fantastic.  It is a god-send for women living in abusive situations.  I support it wholeheartedly.  AND perhaps there will be women who attend our program that evening who will feel called to go to [that charity] because they recognize themselves in the stories we're telling.  These stories can directly prompt people to action they might not have know how to take otherwise.  We will have lists of resources for them to use, wonderful non-profits and therapists, etc., if they chose to take the next step.  My assertion is that the women who have taken the time to process their own lives to the point where they can tell their stories, or the stories of their mothers and grandmothers or friends or lovers, deserve to be honored for their services, and in our society, money is one way of honoring people.  They should get support so they can continue to tell their stories so they can continue to make a difference.

I believe each evening we've planned has a similar ability to help people.  [...] My heartfelt belief [is]  that what we're doing is as important as much of the work that non-profits do.  Beyond Barbie isn't a money-making scheme.  It's a reaching out to community to offer our stories and our hearts to others to help them understand us and heal themselves.   Non-profits are a vital part of our society because there are few other ways for the hurting in our midst to get help and support.  My husband has worked in the non-profit sector for years, and I was a teacher for 25 years, so I'm very familiar with them.  Right now I am taking direct action to make a difference, AND I am ready to monetarily honor those who help me do it, to the extent the ticket sales make that possible.

Have you personally had an experience as an artist/creative where you felt your work was undervalued or misunderstood for the contribution it is to society?

1 comment:

  1. First of all, I would like to say that I support "Beyond Barbie" 100% and believe it is a great project that will be well received in the Richmond area. I applaud you for coming up with the idea and organizing the event.

    That being said, I would like to confess that I am the person you referred to in "Donate Profits or Pay the Artists." I am responding to correct something said in your post. My suggestion was that you donate to charity 50% of any profits IN EXCESS of $7,800 (the figure you said your group had as a goal to consider Beyond Barbie to be a success before I stepped forward to help). I felt I had a right to suggest this because I had volunteered to use my time, vision, ideas, experience and contacts to help you sell tickets and advertising; and because I never do anything half way, I would foresee blowing the $7,800 figure out of the water.

    I do believe that artists should be paid fully for their ARTWORK...but not necessarily for their time putting on an event about women's issues. The participating artists will be receiving exposure to an exceptional group of qualified purchasers of their art/services. If you all thought $7,800 would be adequate compensation for your time, why would you not want to share the bounty of any excess proceeds with non-profits associated with women's issues?

    You can do whatever you wish, because "Beyond Barbie" is your creation. I can only do what I believe is right for me. I did not know at the time I volunteered to help with "Beyond Barbie" that is was going to be a "for profit" event. If I am going to work that many hours in my retirement, I want my time to benefit charities that are helping those people who are less fortunate than I am.

    Susan, I would not have gone "public" with my strong feelings about this, and I am sorry that you have chosen this forum to air our differences. I have had only wonderful things to say to people about what you are doing. I plan to continue to talk up "Beyond Barbie" and plan to attend all the seminars as a show of my support.