“We don’t have a budget”: Why artists die of exposure
“We don’t have a budget.” These five words are the bane of a creative worker’s existence.
Every few seconds, the phone rings, and an artist who may have been stewing in incessant financial anxiety for longer than humanly possible—hears a client playing a very small violin, asking for free/drastically underpaid creative work because, “We don’t have a budget!”
By nature, events must have a budget in order to exist. So—aside from charity events—”we don’t have a budget” simply means “we did not MAKE a budget … for you.”
A year ago today, I published an open letter to Oprah Winfrey, regarding her “Life You Want” tour inviting me (and other artists) to perform at an event dedicated to fostering a more nurturing existence, held in an 18,000 capacity arena, with tickets priced up to $999. The tour was offering local artists no pay.
The blog post went viral.
To date, over a million people have read it.
I’ve done a lot of thinking about the experience. When it was still fresh, I did a talk about “exposure” and what I had learned from my letter going viral, at a conference called Big Ideas Fest, featuring TED-talk like discussions. (See video above.)
Did I die because I said no to the “exposure” offered by the Oprah Winfrey tour? No. In fact, I can cite that experience as a turning point in my life that was expansive and positive. In recent years, it has become clear to me that if I can see aspects of this culture which require change, it would be indulgent of me to ignore them.
After this post went viral, I started an activist-oriented writing job, and I’ve spent the past months fighting for workers’ rights. I did a story for NYLON. I did a gig for Tesla. Strangely, I have not been blacklisted by the entire world for simply stating that workers—including creative workers (who are ultimately still doing work)—should be paid. If anything, I’ve become more inspired in my activism and in the belief that we don’t have to follow “the way things are”—if those things do not support, to quote a great leader, “the life we want.”
Ninety-nine percent of the comments, over the past year have been supportive. However, one particular comment said, “I can’t believe she wanted to work for money! First world problems!” If it has to be broken down, the need for money is not a “first world problem.” We live in a culture where money = *survival.* Not everyone has to be a billionaire. But we all have to eat food and pay our rent. So asking for a paycheck is not an act of indulgence or excess. It’s an act of survival.
Assuming workers wouldn’t NEED to be paid is a first world problem.
Oprah Winfrey’s camp never responded to the post. Joining a discussion about budgeting for work they’ve historically obtained for free is probably not top of any corporate entity’s to-do list. Still, the response of the creative community and countless self-made people was resonant.
It was an unexpected blessing to virtually fist bump so many of you who commented and shared your own stories. We have the Internet now, and the ability to reach over a million people … with no one’s permission. Maybe this is a turning point where it’s more obvious than ever that people don’t need to gamble their blood, sweat and tears away on a corporate client’s unpaid doorway to the world.
I want a life in which a widespread push for better valuing workers—leads to change.
Let’s make it happen.
Cartoon by Rob DenBleyker, republished with permission of Cyanide & Happiness
THANK YOU to everyone who helped last year when my car died, and I was struggling to make ends meet. I am beyond grateful. If you feel like helping someone this year, please donate to help the refugees as winter approaches.Follow Revolva
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