My comments to Durham City Council on behalf of independent artists.Posted: March 20, 2018
Here are my prepared remarks for the Durham City Council public hearing on the budget, March 19th, 2018, on behalf of independent artists in Durham. Thank you, as always, to my sustainers for enabling me to do this work.
My name is Monica Byrne. Twelve years ago, I moved to Durham because of its affordability and its incredibly rich independent arts scene. Today I’m a full-time novelist, playwright, performer, and activist. Independent artists like me have played an essential role in making Durham a place where people love to live. Now, it’s becoming unaffordable for me, and for all the independent artists I know, both as a place to live and a place to make work.
Of course, that’s the case for a lot of Durham residents. I want to stress that artists are no more inherently special than any other kind of worker, but are treated as such, which means there are a few crucial points I’m asking the Council to consider when building a new budget.
(1) That in all private and public sectors, including the City of Durham, because art is treated as a hobby and not as work, artists are vastly under-compensated—to the point of no compensation at all.
(2) That compensation for artists is an intersectional economic justice issue. Art is something all people, of every age, race, gender, socioeconomic class, nationality, and ethnicity do to make meaning out of their lives. But only some kinds of art are recognized and compensated by our institutions. That art is overwhelmingly made by white men for white audiences.
(3) That the city’s arts funding, as reflected in the current budget, overwhelmingly prioritizes institutional and corporate art at the direct cost of independent artists in Durham.
(4) That the commitments to institutional and corporate art must be balanced by an equal commitment to the independent artists who make our city a place people love to live.
The good news is that it would take very little for the Council to start making meaningful change. I’m asking for three very simple things:
First, treat individual artists and small arts organizations as businesses. That is, offer them the same access to capital and low-interest loans that any other business would have.
Second, set an example by providing for compensation for all artists hired by the city, at least at a living wage. If you have questions, hire artists as consultants at a professional wage.
Third, please do not confuse funding the Durham Arts Council with funding artists. They are not the same thing. The ways in which the leadership and the board of the Durham Arts Council fail to meet the needs of independent artists in Durham would take much longer than three minutes to explain.
If you would like to talk about that more, or anything else I’ve mentioned, please get in touch, and I’d be delighted to.