The Precarious Artist

Musicians performing in Nashville. (Alamy Stock Photo)

A stunning vote to oust the current president of the Musician’s Union and replace the leadership was prompted by grave concerns about the on-going difficulties of a musician’s professional life. Michael Cooper of the New York Times writes, “The leadership team of the New York local of the musicians’ union — the union’s largest local in the nation — was voted out of office on Tuesday in a stunning upset, amid concerns over the underfunded musicians’ pension plan and broader changes facing music, the original gig economy.”

Valid concerns about the underfunded pension plan is what sparked the vote to change leadership; it also sparks larger questions and concerns about the ways in which union representation has failed to keep up with the needs of membership — not just with the musician’s union, but with all unions. Artists have long lived the life of “gig economy” practitioners, and unions are meant to protect them from the many ways in which a capitalist culture undervalues, underpays and exploits their work. Fears that union representation is out of touch with its membership are well-founded; it is one of the reasons that younger artists are opting out of union membership.

The newly-elected president of the Musicians Union, Adam Krauthamer, was elected with a robust 67% of the vote. Before his election, he founded Musicians for Pension Security, out of a growing concern about mismanagement of the union’s pension funds.

The widespread insecurities of life in the arts cannot be off-set by unions which fail to ferociously guard the well-being of their membership. Addressing such problems is essential in an economy that makes survival of society’s artists even more at risk. Looking beyond the issues with unresponsive unions, it isn’t hard to identify problems with the financial well-being of visual artists, writers, poets, photographers…..In a society that refuses to adequately support its artists, that leaves us to try and protect ourselves. We here at Hidden River Arts welcome ideas and comments about ways in which we can all support each other – how might the artistic class (I don’t use the phrase “creative class” since that term has been usurped by the business community) build their own networks, inter-disciplinary networks, in order to support and protect each other? What sorts of projects and protections might we establish to protect our fellow artists?

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