October 16, 2013
Dear Suzanne Lacy, Nato Thompson, Catherine J. Morris and volunteers and staff of Brooklyn
Museum and Creative Time,
We are artists, scholars, activists, feminists, wage laborers and mothers performing in Between the Door and the Street. While there are many merits to this piece, and we are hopeful about the public conversations we will engage in, we raise issue with the lack of payment for performers and the lack of childcare options for participating mothers.
As feminists, we believe not paying the 350 women participants perpetuates labor inequality, devalues women’s time and assumes that all women in this piece are financially able to volunteer time, energy, emotional and political content for free. We believe that assuming and relying on free/unpaid contributions of our time for your project continues to perpetuate a standard of capitalist economy that systematically underpays and disenfranchises us, and devalues our time, our bodies, our energies, our histories and our intellects through tactics such as “professionalization,” “volunteerism” and more. This is a mainstream standard that has never worked for us, and does not serve us now. A culture of “volunteerism” assumes that all participants have the means to volunteer and perpetuates the very real reality of poverty and scarcity for many artists and activists. Compensating us would address, in a small but important way, the material realities and economic oppressions impacting many of our lives.
As women who come from different socio-economic and racial backgrounds, we understand that not all activism can or should be paid. However, we do think that the arts community has an imperative to try harder to set a better standard of compensating women for their labor, and for practicing solidarity economies that support women’s participation instead of exploiting them. Additionally, we feel that poor public framing of the unpaid “volunteerism” and time commitments required for Between the Door and the Street create a high barrier to entry. Most of the women participating are non-profit professionals, or women attached to high-visibility non-profits discussing the prompt questions of: “who will take care of the nannies children?” but can the “nanny” bring her own children to this event and participate in an equitable manner, given that she will not be paid, and there will be no childcare?
We think not.
We are familiar with, and respectful of Suzanne Lacy’s art, and it is in the spirit of compassionate solidarity and loving community engagement, that we are bringing up these issues. We believe that art and artists benefit from honest critique and that a piece such as Between the Door and the Street that aims to open up space to talk about feminism and women’s work must take on these issues.
Leina Bocar (performer)
artist, activist, member of Occupy Sunset Park and Arts and Labor
Anonymous performer 1
Anonymous participant 2
* We are in no way attempting to speak on behalf of the other women performers or for their organizations. We are respectfully signing as individuals.