The setting sun lights up my library corner on the last day of 2015.
The morning sun shines on a determined rose blooming on the first day of 2016.
The setting sun lights up my library corner on the last day of 2015.
The morning sun shines on a determined rose blooming on the first day of 2016.
Last November, Temporary Art Review published an excerpt from a longer essay of mine, “A Pragmatic Response to Real Circumstances,” originally published in 2006. The focus of the piece is and/or, an artist space that I helped found and then directed during its ten-year lifespan, 1974-1984. The publication has a specific focus on “self-organized and artist-centered spaces and critical exchange across the United States and beyond.”
About itself, the Review says:
Temporary Art Review is a platform for contemporary art criticism that focuses on alternative spaces and critical exchange among disparate art communities. Temporary is an international network, highlighting both practical and theoretical discourse through reviews, interviews, essays and profiles on artist-centered spaces and projects.
The publication was founded in St. Louis in 2011 by Sarrita Hunn and James McAnally, has a national network of contributors, and aims to decentralize the conversation about contemporary practice by emphasizing the breadth of projects taking place outside of traditional art centers. In fall 2015 it profiled spaces in the Northwest, several each from Portland, Seattle, and Vancouver. Their interest in the history of artist spaces led them to and/or. I’m grateful for their interest. You can find my piece below and on Temporary Art Review’s site here.
In the early ‘70s a group of artist friends took the name “Seattle Souvenir Service” and attached it to various art projects: actions at art festivals, little books, a growing accumulation of Space Needle memorabilia — plates, ashtrays, pennants, records. It was a very unstructured and convenient alias, which we used sometimes individually, more often as a group.
At some point, for reasons that escape me at the moment, I wanted a more formal structure and my mind was set on a nonprofit organization. I imagined and outlined the cluster of activities the new organization might encompass. First, we’d have a space — for videotape and film showings, performances (experimental music, dance, and theater; electronic music, video performances, poetry readings), exhibitions (work not being shown elsewhere, conceptual and correspondence work, “environmental” or what we’d now call “installations,” the Space Needle collection), special events for women, and workshops, discussions, and parties. Second, we’d have an art services business including production and exhibition services, management advice for organizations (think of it!), and a workshop space that I already had under lease (electronic music, carpentry, storage). And we’d have equipment — video, music, film, chairs.
After laying out the big picture, I was told by Bob Kaplan, an attorney who has given advice to many artists over the years, that all this wouldn’t fit into one legal container; some activities could function under a nonprofit umbrella, but others, he said — the art services in particular — were commercial, profit-making activities. I couldn’t have both. He played a good devil’s advocate role on behalf of a profit-making structure, but I went with the nonprofit anyway. Setting up a legal entity felt much like a game, at least at the beginning. We were playing at being “directors.”
After finding a space, I convinced my dad (who with mom had promised a loan, of equal size no doubt, to each of their children) that starting this place was as good a use of a loan as buying a home (something I didn’t own then, indeed only came to own at age 53). He gave me about $1,500-2,000 up front for labor and materials to remodel the space, and then a monthly amount of $200 for the first year, an amount he cut back incrementally each month after that, to zero at the end of the second year — probably a total of $5,000. Knowing I had that support, I then convinced the city to let me quit half of my full-time job with the two-year-old arts commission, giving me time for the new venture.
Although pretty much the same people were involved, we decided that the “Seattle Souvenir Service” should remain loose, unconstrained by any legal structure. So the new place needed a name. Wanting it to stay open to possibilities, I settled on and/or. A typewritten doodle at the time put it like this:
and/or SPACE NEEDLES
and/or NEW DIMENSIONS IN MUSIC
and/or ARTISTS’ BOOKS
and/or opened on April 21, 1974, the Space Needle’s birthday.
Two years later, we held a staff show (there were five or six of us at that point) to let our audience see more about who made decisions and ran the place. I contributed Making a Habit, a daily public writing project, posting one new page every day. Since I continued to think about the patterns I made through and/or, one day I wrote:
Somehow it’s fairly easy to see the initial setting up of and/or as an artwork — creating, making the space, making an organization where there wasn’t one before, pulling ideas together that eventually became the programs, the general definition. It’s more difficult to describe the ongoing of it as an artwork… One of the greatest challenges is working with an ongoing form; the “trick” is not to simply have an organization that perpetuates itself, but to have one with life, challenges, risks, and new ideas — that also manages to have a life span.
I’m often involved in finding a very tricky, delicate balance between giving enough structure, stability/credibility to assure a continued existence, and giving enough openness, flexibility, free-ness to allow for real growth, surprise, significant work and change.
One concern was how to make a situation, a pattern, that didn’t predetermine the results any more than necessary — giving the participants (artists) the greatest possible chance to develop their own ideas… At the same time I realized that no matter what I did I wouldn’t create a neutral or totally “objective” pattern even if I wanted to (which I often thought I did).
In 1978, the first gathering of “alternative visual arts organizations” took place in Santa Monica, California, attended by fifty-seven organizations, including and/or and the Portland Center for the Visual Arts. I was asked to contribute an essay for an accompanying publication and spoke in advance with many of the artist organizers of other spaces. I wanted to find out what organizational patterns we had developed as “new arts spaces” — how we functioned and what shapes we had taken. I was also interested in the ways our organizations had changed.
An overriding memory from the conversations, one that didn’t get into my essay, was of terrific disappointment. I took on writing the essay because I thought it would give me a chance to talk with other artists who were thinking about the patterns of their organizational work. I was surprised that I didn’t find anyone who thought about making the organization as an extension of their artmaking. Maybe I didn’t ask the right questions. They often knew that being artists themselves was important to the work, but in most cases they also seemed to feel that the organizational work took them away from their art, and many of them longed to get back to it. Many worried about their spaces becoming institutions (though some explicitly sought that), while it seemed to me that their organizations followed existing organizational models without thinking much about it. Now, I find it curious that I didn’t write about my dismay. Perhaps I didn’t quite know how to bring it up or, as likely, was insecure about being so alone in my interest. Here is part of what I wrote to my colleagues:
As our prestige and reputations increase, as we increasingly have something to lose, it could become harder to take risks, to risk failure, to risk not living up to our own standards. Risks were not difficult when we were fairly invisible. I cannot believe that we’ve learned enough that risks are no longer necessary. We also need to remain fluid and flexible, to anticipate and be ready for change in ourselves, in the questions we answer, in the artists and work we support.
An ability to change seems a crucial part of any organizational pattern, especially a “new” one. It also seems important to find out how our structures have changed over their three- to six-year lives. We should ask what we face now that we did not face initially, how each of our organizations deals with becoming an institution itself, and how we can retain the kind of energy and vitality that got us started.
Good Night and/or A Wake
In 1983, and/or received one of the biggest grants that the National Endowment for the Arts offered to smaller organizations, an Advancement Grant. This program aimed to help organizations with strong artistic programs become stronger organizationally (management, finance, fundraising, etc.). These days it would be called a “capacity-building” grant (look that up on the Jargon Files). The award involved a year’s work with a consultant, the development of a multiyear plan, and then a sizable grant (approx. $25,000) in each of the following three years.
After a failed effort to buy the building that housed and/or, I had one of those all-of-a-sudden moments when a new option opens up. Usually my course of action moves along incrementally, listening, making small changes, being persistent, bringing a good idea back, learning from someone else, helping the direction shift — a little like following a winding path. But once in a while a whole picture comes to mind in a flash, and then the challenge becomes understanding its implications and finding ways to act on it. I decided to close and/or — something flipped over, and closing down became the way to advance.
The idea came in summer 1984, and we celebrated with a big party in October that same year — “Good Night and/or A Wake.” I managed to convince the NEA that we should keep the Advancement Grant and use it to support our existing program divisions so they could develop as independent organizations.
In one of the many pages of notes I wrote to myself and others to understand why this was a good idea and what it meant, I gave a quick historical view: “and/or started as an artistic entity, initiating programs and seeing itself as a unified whole. Then some of its programs began to develop stronger identities and a distinction began to be made between ‘and/or core’ and program divisions (exhibitions, music, library, media arts, a small grants program).” The decision to “end and/or” meant closing down the core, not the divisions. I recommended to the board that this be done very publicly because that would:
Reading those documents makes me conscious of how differently people can view the same events. I respect what’s in all those notes as a slice of the history, though the history is bigger than that. Much tension ran through and/or at the time; it was loaded with internal power dynamics. As an organization, its time had run out; contention and power plays seemed stronger than vision and commitment. “In many ways,” I wrote at one point, “it feels much healthier to put energy into the offshoots, the activities with more focused definition, than to spend a lot of energy trying to preserve or to breathe new energy into the original shell.”
A couple of years ago there was a little burst of local interest in the death of organizations. I was invited to participate in several public conversations — “When Things Die” and “Life and Death.” I became the celebrant of dying. An announcement at one such discussion outlined the three stages of death: “denial, anger, acceptance.” For my part, I amended it to add “chaos, release, rejuvenation.” About and/or I observed:
and/or was not built to last, profoundly not. Its energy went to doing, not to building a lasting structure. In the end, it seeded, divided, dissolved its center. It was allowed to become “myth,” to have a beginning and an end.
This essay is an excerpt from the chapbook, “A pragmatic response to real circumstances,” available from Publication Studio Hudson, originally commissioned and published by the Back Room, Matthew Stadler, editor.
© Anne Focke 2006
Last month, my granddaughter Livia and I visited the Suyama Space, an amazing, one-of-a-kind space for artist installations, located in the heart of an architecture firm in downtown Seattle. The installation in the space was “Seattle Floor,” by Viet Stratmann, currently living in Paris. What would you do if you walked in?
Or maybe . . .
Or . . .
Or maybe you’d inspire one of the architects to join you.
With many thanks to Viet Stratmann and the folks at Suyama Space!
Anne Focke, August 18, 2017
Is it possible to find a creative form for Common Field – one that is continually renewed by a restless desire for something always alive and always better?
Common Field has a brand-new, very practical legal form. It is now a 501(c)(3) organization. This and other practical structures being created by Common Field’s council, board, and staff will allow the network to operate in the world as it is today. I’m a proud member of Common Field’s council and of the governance team charged with overseeing the process of creating this legal form.
At some point, though, it struck me that legal forms are only one kind of structure that a group of people might create to work together. A second, complementary, and probably necessary, form would take advantage of the imagination that we bring to it as artists.
The words of artists helped me come to this conclusion. One source is a book of essays by Wendell Berry that, coincidentally, I began reading while attending a NAAOconference years ago (mid-1980s, I think, at the Blackstone Hotel in Chicago). In one essay, “People, Land, and Community,” Berry describes the faulty assumption that we can ever become smart enough to control the “demons at large.” He wrote:
The evidence is overwhelming that knowledge does not solve the “human problem.”
For our purposes here, I’d replace “knowledge” with facts or rules or legalities. A little later Berry says, “It is simply true that we do not and cannot know enough to make any important decision.” He applies this to marriage, farming, and community. I suspect that, for Common Field, it’s also true that, to clumsily paraphrase him, “No legal form can ever solve our human problem.” What I take from this is that, as hard as it is to make a decision the first time, the real work of making it a good decision comes after that, in continuing to understand and adapt it and to make the decision work in the real world.
Then, in another essay, “Poetry and Marriage,” which is more explicitly about form, Berry wrote this:
Properly used, a verse form, like a marriage, creates impasses, which the will and present understanding can solve only arbitrarily and superficially. These halts and difficulties are, perhaps, the true occasions of the poem: occasions for surpassing what we know or have reason to expect… One puts down the first line of the pattern in trust that life and language are abundant enough to complete it.
Maybe that’s what we’re doing now, writing the first line of Common Field’s pattern. And we have to trust that life and our actions together are abundant enough to fill out the pattern that we begin.
This same essay includes other memorable sentences: “It may be, then, that form serves us best when it works as an obstruction to baffle us and deflect our intended course.” And another…“The impeded stream is the one that sings.”
A nice follow-on to Berry comes from Martha Graham in an exchange that Agnes de Mille recorded in her memoir, Dance to the Piper. De Mille wrote:
The greatest thing [Martha] ever said to me was in 1943 after the opening of Oklahoma!, when I suddenly had unexpected flamboyant success for a work I thought was only fairly good, after years of neglect for work I thought was fine. I was bewildered and worried that my entire scale of values was untrustworthy….
I said, “When I see my work I take for granted what other people value in it. I see only its ineptitude, inorganic flaws, and crudities. I am not pleased or satisfied.”
“No artist is pleased.”
“But then is there no satisfaction?”
“No satisfaction whatever at any time,” she cried out passionately. “There is only a queer divine dissatisfaction, a blessed unrest that keeps us marching and more alive than the others.”
All this is meant to offer an expanded context for developing the legal documents, while maybe removing some of the pressure to get them exactly right. And it sets up a question: In addition to putting in place the legal framework that Common Field needs simply to work in the world today, can we approach Common Field as a creative form? Can we create a larger form — that is, beyond the legal structure — a form begun and periodically renewed by a restless desire for something always alive and always better, a container for imagination and aspirations held together by commitment and trust that can take us past the obstructions that baffle us now and through the many obstacles that will undoubtedly baffle us in the future?
The kind of form I’m imagining needs more than legal bonds to hold it together, to release all the possibility inherent in this field. To my mind, the legalities are secondary to the real form we need. Perhaps we can create an image or an action or a text that Common Field could re-stage or renew at its annual convening every year, a kind of ritual maybe. Perhaps it could begin at the convening this year, perhaps with something really simple that could be continually adapted over time.
One example, though I’m not suggesting it for Common Field, comes from a 1980s conference about “creative support for creative artists” that closed with a piece by composer/performer Pauline Oliveros. In a bright dining room at lunch time (that is, no soft lights, no candles), Pauline directed us in humming together in an easy-to-follow pattern. That simple act, in unison, seemed to set us up to leave the conference with a larger sense of ourselves as a whole. The experience stays with me still.
The culture we live in today, even more than in Graham and de Mille’s or even Berry’s time, is caught up in, or to my mind trapped by, “metrics,” measurements, and the rational. It’s easy to forget that that’s only one aspect of being human, only one side of what defines our relationships with each other. It would be amazing if, over time, Common Field could find a way to express its non-rational form. It would go a long way to helping it be the singing stream in Berry’s essay.
1. The full statement of Common Field’s “Core Values” can be found here.
2. Standing by Words: Essays by Wendell Berry, North Point Press,1983.
3. NAAO, or the National Association of Artists’ Organizations, was founded in 1982 and held its last conference in 2000 in Brooklyn, NY. It served many of the same purposes that Common Field has been formed to meet.
The Lost Defenders of the Environment calls attention to the 991 documented environmental activists who were killed or the victims of enforced disappearances from 2002 to 2014 in thirty-nine countries. It was created by Mika Yamaguchi, Orion Cruz, and Sarah Jornsay-Silverberg for ARTCOP21, the global cultural festival on climate change that ran concurrently with the Global Climate Change talks in Paris in late 2015. Cruz also participated in the Rising Waters Confab at the Rauschenberg Residency.
While nationally sanctioned monuments traditionally commemorate those who perished in battle, Yamaguchi and Cruz’s Non-memorial recognizes marginalized victims of often secret persecutions, revealing the staggering number of known deaths and disappearances resulting from systemic oppression; traumatic killings that are, in many cases, not recognized as crimes. The Non-memorial is a digital film projection of names.
It is mobile and fleeting so it derives its significance from what it is not. It is not a memorial; it is not permanent; it does not provide closure, nor is it indicative of justice. It can be anywhere because it is nowhere, and it is nothing until leaders/governments make the changes necessary to prevent more deaths of environmental activists.
• Mika Yamaguchi is an architectural designer and artist. She received an undergraduate degree in Psychology from Queens University and completed her Master in Architecture from the University of Toronto, Canada. Aside from designing buildings, she is particularly interested in looking critically at the use of architectural devices and the efficacy of memorials in representing traumatic events.
• Orion Cruz is a lawyer who focuses on environmental law and policy, human rights, climate change, and Latin American affairs. He has worked on legal cases and campaigns related to human rights and the environment throughout Latin America, attended multiple global climate change conferences, and published articles about environmental issues and Latin American politics. He is currently based in Hawaii.
• Sarah Jornsay-Silverberg is an international environmental lawyer who graduated from Lewis & Clark Law School in the United States in 2012. Since graduating, she has worked on human rights issues related to extractive industries at the international level. She has also participated in local fossil fuel divestment actions near her home in the San Francisco Bay area of California. She is in Paris this month to fight for justice for the communities that are most impacted by climate change.
“How do we carry the core purpose of civil society into the digital age?”
“As we return to an era in which more than half of full time workers may be freelancing, the systems of social supports are going to have to change.”
“Perhaps more people’s working lives will begin to look like those of independent artists and less like life-term nonprofit corporate climbing.”
“If the economy is undergoing fundamental shifts, what role do we want nonprofits, foundations, and other social economy actors to play?”
Excerpts, Philanthropy and the Social Economy: Blueprint 2016
These are all quotes from Philanthropy and the Social Economy: Blueprint 2016, by Lucy Bernholz. I offer them to suggest the range of topics covered in her latest annual forecast for people working in and interested in philanthropy and the social economy.
Every December for the past seven years, Lucy, a self-professed philanthropy wonk*, has written a forecast for philanthropy and the social economy – that is, the economy that uses private resources for public good. She provides insight into big ideas that will matter in the coming year, makes specific predictions for 2016, identifies buzzwords that will likely come into prominence, and offers glimpses into deeper concerns she sees coming over the horizon. She packs a lot into the forecast’s 24 pages. I’ve had the good fortune to work with her since the publication was just an idea. In general terms, my role is as sounding board, clarifier, and editor.
The latest installment, Blueprint 2016: Philanthropy and the Social Economy (link below), was published just last week by GrantCraft, a service of the Foundation Center. For the past six years, Lucy has been pushing her readers to expand their understanding of the social economy beyond just nonprofits and charitable giving to include a wider world that includes social enterprises (B Corporations, L3Cs), online alliances, social impact investing, informal networks, and political activism. She has also been a consistent voice urging greater awareness of our “digital civil society,” in other words, the ways we use our private resources for public benefit in the digital age.
Last year’s Blueprint 2015 contained sections that provide a great summary of both the social economy and digital civil society. Especially if you’re not familiar with Lucy’s thinking or with these concepts, I highly recommend it. The Blueprints may be annual forecasts, but their value extends considerably beyond a single year.
Working with Lucy always teaches me a lot, and this year I was especially excited because one of the two big ideas she urges us to watch next year has also been on my mind: the structure of work. She considers how work is changing and how these changes apply to philanthropy and the social economy. She says:
The coming year is shaping up to see the issues of workers’ rights, wages, and income inequality raised to the level of national and regional political topics. It’s time to consider how the changing workplace and its impact on lives and communities influences nonprofits, foundations, and civil society.
She considers research on the impact of advances in robotics and automation. She mentions scholars and activists focused on inequality and on increasing wages for the lowest-paid workers. She provides statistics that support the conclusion that “almost half of us – with or without smartphone apps and the rhetoric of the ‘gig’ economy – are working by the project or one-off opportunity whether we recognize it or not.” We’re freelancers and part-time or temporary workers.
She emphasizes that, as we enter an era in which more than half of full-time workers may be freelancers, the systems of social supports (from social security to health care, taxes, childcare, and retirement funds) are going to have to change. Having spent almost all my working life as this kind of worker, I wholeheartedly agree.
One approach to revising – or reforming – our system of social supports was the topic of discussion in a different setting, a recent conversation at Seattle’s Town Hall, organized by Edward Wolcher and me under the series title, Penny U. The discussion revolved around the establishment of a minimum basic income – an idea championed by Martin Luther King, conservative economist F.A. Hayek, and Robert Reich.
In Lucy’s Blueprint 2016, I especially appreciate that she includes artists in her thinking. The following two passages among others, appear in this issue:
Some of civil society has operated as a ‘gig economy’ for a long time. In particular, artists and activists have often spent their entire lives weaving in and out of ‘regular jobs,’ doing their work independently and as part of institutions.
Even if only a handful of the predictions being made about the future of work are accurate, many more of us, not just artists, are likely to need the skills of designing our own work lives as hybrid part-time workers and self-employed entrepreneurs rather than just taking full-time jobs defined by others.
The 2016 Blueprint investigates and provokes questions about many other related topics. The short quotes I use to start this piece only begin to suggest the range of compelling topics and themes covered. Rather than spend any more time summarizing them, I simply suggest that you go to GrantCraft’s site (links below), download your own copy, and read the original.
Here are a few more quotes to tempt you:
“Given all the changes in the nature of employment, the spread of automation, and the fluctuating value of data, we’re bound to see new enterprise forms.”
“We need to develop governance models, organizational norms, and new policies for digital civil society.”
“We need to understand and adapt the ways data and algorithms are used to shape public policy.”
“In today’s online environment, the less data collected, the safer the individual.”
“What does a social sector characterized by networks, distributed governance, and greater rates of spending look like compared to what we know now?”
* Lucy Bernholz has worked in, consulted to, and written about philanthropy and the social economy since 1990. Now she is a visiting scholar at Stanford University and works at the Digital Civil Society Lab, which is part of Stanford’s Center on Philanthropy and Civil Society (PACS). Her blog is titled “Philanthropy 2173, on Twitter she’s known as @p2173, and she posts most of her articles, speeches, and presentations online at www.lucybernholz.com.
• Read the press release for Blueprint 2016 here.
• Download Blueprint 2016 here.
• Download Blueprint 2015 here.
• Connect with Lucy’s blog, Philanthropy 2173 here.
• Find more about the Digital Civil Society Lab here.
Most of you who read this are probably following the Climate Talks in Paris – officially named the 21st Conference of the Partners to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, or COP21 – that started on Monday, November 30 and lasts until December 11.
But you may not yet be following ARTCOP21, the global cultural festival on climate change that began in September and runs through the end of the year, with a focus in Paris. Today its website says that 513 events have been scheduled in 52 countries, 114 of them in Paris. The website has images and information about all of them, included under the tab, “What’s On.” It’s impressive!
On the website, the two organizing groups – Cape Farewell based in London and COAL, the Coalition for Art and Sustainable Development, based in Paris – stated their vision for the climate festival. (Check out the Banksy photo on their vision page.)
Climate is everyone’s business. Join the cultural movement towards a carbon neutral, clean future. We need the negotiations taking place during the United Nations Conference on Climate Change (COP21) to succeed and build a sustainable global culture. Climate change is often seen through a policy or scientific lens, and solutions are discussed only in political offices, boardrooms and negotiating halls. ARTCOP21 launched ahead of the UN climate talks in Paris, aims to challenge those tropes. Climate is culture. What is required is the active engagement of citizens worldwide in the urgency, value and opportunities of a transition away from fossil fuels and the embracing of a greener, sustainable future economy.
ARTCOP21 will connect hundreds of thousands of people to the climate challenge through an extensive global programme of over 290 major events; art installations, plays, exhibitions, concerts, performances, talks, conferences, workshops, family events and screenings – plus a whole range of people power gatherings and demonstrations – taking place right across Paris and worldwide. We already have events in 34 countries, and momentum grows by the day. All these events will highlight the need for governments meeting in Paris to support strong climate action and signal the end of the fossil fuel era – making climate change a people issue, not one to be left solely to the politicians. We will #FightForTheFuture.
You’ll notice that the number of events and countries has increased since the statement was posted.
This past May, I participated in the Rising Waters Confab at the Rauschenberg Residency, organized by artist Buster Simpson with assistance from artist Laura Sindell and me.
David Buckland, founder and director of Cape Farewell, joined us for the last of our five weeks there. Several other Rising Waters participants are in Paris right now as well, working on projects designed for the festival – Gretel Ehrlich, Mel Chin, Orion Cruz, and Edward Morris and Susannah Sayler of the Canary Project.
Shortly after the attacks in Paris, David Buckland sent an email to all of us who participated in Rising Waters.
November 18, 2015
Dear Buster and all the Rauschenberg workshop team,
Cape Farewell, with our French partners COAL, built ARTCOP21 as an umbrella organisation to champion all the climate-cultural events happening in Paris and now worldwide. To date over 400 cultural/climate events have been registered in over 46 countries, numbers that way exceeded our hopes. We are the ‘official’ cultural partners to COP21, and we have confirmed with them that all our events in Paris will go ahead as scheduled. This is sadly not the case with some of the government-led events, and the climate march planned for the 29th November is in doubt. Please look at our website www.artcop21.com for all the events listed and for current new items.
Cape Farewell and COAL are determined that we will keep a strong global focus on climate through culture, and that the totally horrible and cowardly murders that happened in Paris last weekend must not be allowed to dominate the climate challenge and the building of a better, more connected, healthier world culture.
We have been giving assistance and continue to do so to Mel Chin and Gretel Ehrlich’s L’Arctique est Paris, plus I have been working with Orion Cruz and Mika Yamaguchi in their great Lost Defenders of the Environment artwork. Staging both in Paris at the moment is difficult, but we are all determined that the presence of both artworks is felt.
Please, in addition, if anyone is staging a climate/cultural art event before the 12th December, sign it up on our web site. It is very important that the powers that be register that the creative sector has a very important place at the climate ‘table’ and that this is now a global movement for positive change.
On November 19, Cape Farewell and COAL posted a statement expressing similar sentiments. “In Response and Moving Ahead” responds to the Paris attacks and states their conviction that a cultural exchange around climate change is more important now than ever.
Here are ARTCOP21 projects produced by Rising Waters participants.
L’Arctique est Paris, The Arctic is Paris
A project created and produced by Gretel Ehrlich, Mel Chin, and the Canary Project.
A message from Edward Morris of the Canary Project provides an introduction:
Inspired by the activism around the COP21 talks, The Canary Project has been working with Mel Chin and Gretel Ehrlich on a multifaceted project called The Arctic Is. This project will ultimately result in a website with information on both climate change impacts and actions specific to any location you enter. Not run of the mill actions like changing a light bulb or buying this or that green product, but rather specific marches, politicians to vote for, groups to join, real culture that you can make etc.
The main theme of the project is that climate change is not some remote phenomenon. It is everywhere and is happening now. The Arctic is Paris. The Arctic is Des Moines. The Arctic is Lagos. The Arctic is Lima. The Arctic is Beirut. The Arctic is your hometown. The project launches with two events in Paris organized by Gretel Ehrlich featuring in an amazing in-progress film by Mel Chin.
The ARTCop21 website offered this about the second event:
A rare event with elite hunters from the top of the world – a talk on December 6 with Jens Danielsen, Gretel Ehrlich and Mel Chin: putting a human face onto climate change.
The second in a two-part presentation by Gretel Ehrlich and Mel Chin, will be moderated by Neal Conan, and will include a film by Mel Chin, stills and videos by Gretel Ehrlich, talks by featured speakers from Greenland and the Pacific Islands with traditional artifacts from the Arctic and the Pacific Islands. This continues the presentation at La Generale on December 2nd. This continuing conversation will feature speakers Jens Danielsen and Mamarut Kristiansen from the northernmost town in Greenland, elite hunters from the top of the world. Jens traveled by dogsled from Greenland to Point Hope, Alaska, duplicating the Fifth Thule Expedition, a journey made by Knud Rasmussen in the 1920’s. He is the mayor of Qaanaaq, and a delegate to the Inuit Circumpolar Conference. Mamarut is one of the great hunters from Qaanaaq and is Jen’s brother-in-law, part of the extended family group that lives and hunts together. He is married to the great granddaughter of American explorer Robert Peary. Jens and Mamarut represent indigenous Arctic people who co-evolved with ice and migrated across the polar north from Siberia thousands of years ago. They will talk about how the demise of sea ice has affected their intact culture, their hunting traditions, their ability to survive, and where they go from here.
The Lost Defenders of the Environment
An installation and a website, an ArtCOP21 event created by Orion Cruz (Rising Waters Confab participant), Mika Yamaguchi, and Anne van Koeverden. The project website says:
The defenders of the environment are people who are on the frontlines of the struggle to protect what is left of our planet. They are not willing to stand idly by as the environment we all depend upon continues to be ravaged. Some refuse to sacrifice their drinking water and ways of life for the sake of extracting gold from the ground. Others protect what remains of the Amazon from settlers and illegal logging.
Among other things, the project and website recognizes the names of 991 Environmental Activists killed or disappeared between the years of 2002 and 2014.
The Lost Defenders project examines the lack of progressive action in response to the global struggle of a harrowing number of individuals, a great number whose perpetrators go unpunished. We attempt to portray that their deaths may just be forgotten if the names of the victims do not become known during the COP21.
Without these defenders business as usual will continue – far too unrestrained to provide us hope that future generations will inherit a healthier and more beautiful planet. For this reason their actions and examples are critical. They remind us of our humanity and our connection to all living things. They remind us that we’re all one. Their struggle was not, and is not, for nothing; it’s for everything. Their actions won’t be forgotten, they will be celebrated.
More information about The Lost Defenders can be found here.
7:00 pm, Friday, December 4, 2015
Town Hall Seattle, downstairs cafe
Late last year (11/30/14), a video was posted on Penny U’s blog telling of a Swiss proposal to guarantee every citizen a minimum yearly income, regardless of other wealth or employment. A similar idea came up again at the end of Robert Reich’s talk at Town Hall earlier this fall. A short piece posted here earlier, “Guaranteed Income and Unrigging the System,” highlighted this aspect of Reich’s talk.
Reich proposes it as a way to counteract the widening gap between those with extreme wealth and power and those without, a condition that threatens, he says, not only our economy but our democracy. He suggests that this minimum might be funded through a “citizen’s bequest,” that would, in his words, “distribute the gains from technological advances in such a way that nearly everyone would have the means to benefit from them.”
Variations on this idea are not new. In the final chapters of his book, Reich mentions both Thomas Paine in Agrarian Justice, 1797 and conservative economist F.A. Hayek in 1979 as precedents. The last question posed to Reich at Town Hall quoted Martin Luther King, who, in the last years of his life, advocated for a guaranteed income as the solution to poverty. But the debate is far from settled.
We will discuss aspects of this debate at Penny U beginning with these questions:
It would support the leisure and “freedom from pressing economic cares,” that economist John Maynard Keynes predicted in 1928 that we would achieve by 2028. It could provide a decent living for the workers with a “calling” who are now unpaid, mentioned in my essay, “Unpaid, in Spite of Their Value.” It could allow today’s overworked workers to live fuller lives. But would people use their time well or are we inherently lazy, with tendencies toward free-loading?
Reich contends that, first, the existing system would have to be unrigged, and, to do that, a knowledgeable “countervailing power” would have to emerge among the “vast majority.” Is that possible? What would it look like? Is it beginning to exist already? How would it gain momentum?
Robert Reich proposes a citizen’s bequest. Jaron Lanier has proposed that big companies using your data – Amazon, Google, Facebook, etc. – should pay a tiny royalty whenever they use it; it’s valuable data, it’s yours, and the small amounts would add up. We could learn from Alaska’s experiment with the oil dividend that it gives all its citizens. And others propose that funds for this purpose could be freed up by eliminating our whole welfare system. Which of these idea are most useful or likely? What other good ideas are out there?
On Friday, after short opening introductions and a little background, we’ll break into small groups around cafe tables for individual conversations that will allow everyone to participate.
If you’re in the area, please join us!
(And, if you can come, you can RSVP here.)
The very last questioner in the Q & A following Robert Reich’s talk at Town Hall Seattle this past October, challenged him with the words of Martin Luther King in a 1966 Leadership retreat, which were essentially these: “There is something wrong with capitalism. It is time for America to move toward a democratic socialism. I believe in the right of a guaranteed minimum income.”
The solution to poverty is to abolish it directly by a now widely discussed measure: the guaranteed income.*
– Martin Luther King
In response, Reich handed the questioner a copy of his book, Saving Capitalism for the Many, Not the Few. Then he said, “The last two chapters in that book make the case for a universal basic income.” While he argued that “isms” are not helpful, he went on to say, “We need to ask the fundamental question, which is: Is this system working for all of us, giving us all a fair shot? Or is the system biased in some very important structural ways. And if it’s biased, how exactly do we unrig that system?”
Reich believes our current system is rigged. Earlier, in his more formal talk, Reich maintained that to “unrig” it, the system’s rules must change. “You can’t have a market without government,” he said, because the market needs rules. It needs rules around property, contracts, monopoly, bankruptcy, enforcement, and more. The market can’t function without these mechanisms. The rules change over time, and, right now, the rules are being changed to serve the few not the many. The changes are a major cause of inequality and of the declining income of the poor and middle-class. “Wide-spread prosperity isn’t just a moral good, it’s an economic good as well.” The low and middle-classes don’t have enough purchasing power to generate a healthy economy. And he added, “Wall Street isn’t the job generator; the middle class is.”
Other forces have picked up steam over the past 35 years and also work against a system for the many. Reich outlined some of them briefly at Town Hall and discusses them in his new book, Saving Capitalism for the Many, Not the Few: globalism and the outsourcing of labor that accompanies it for one, and labor-replacing technologies for another. But both his talk and his book focus on the increasing failure of the rules, on what in the rules needs to change, and on how the changes could be made.
The vast majority must regain influence over how the market is organized. – Robert Reich
Over the same 35 years, large corporations and banks, along with wealthy individuals, have been able to get changes in the rules to benefit themselves. And this feeds on itself, he added. “As income and wealth have concentrated at the top, political power has moved there as well.” We need to “lift the curtain” on how the rules of the “free market” are being set and learn how government rules are allowing money to flow upward, from the bottom to the top. One of Reich’s reasons for optimism today is a belief that “if the smaller players understood this dynamic,” they could ally themselves and form a new countervailing power. “The vast majority must regain influence over how the market is organized.”
In addition to understanding how the rules are being changed, the vast majority comprising this countervailing force will need some good new ideas. His book describes a range ideas for policies that need to change, including reform of our campaign finance system to get money out of politics, ways corporations could be reinvented, and possible additions and revisions to the tax code. And he proposes what he calls a “citizen’s bequest,” a way to “redistribute the profits from [new and] marvelous labor-saving inventions so we’ll have the money to buy the free time they provide,” to quote from his blog post on Labor Day this year, “Labor Day 2028.” That is, as he envisions it, this citizen’s bequest could be a way to fund the provision of a basic minimum income.
In the end, his final questioner at Town Hall gave Reich what he’d hoped for, “an opportunity to summarize with great exhortation.” He closed with this:
We believe in a system that works for all of us. We don’t believe in an aristocracy. We don’t believe there should be people called ‘the working poor,’ who are working full time and are still poor. We don’t believe there should be non-working rich. We don’t believe in pure equality – that’s silly – but we believe in a system where everyone has a chance, a real chance, to make it, and everyone moves upward as the economy improves. We believe there is a moral core to this system, whatever you want to call it.
And then he read the final paragraph in his book:
The vast majority of the nation’s citizens do have the power to alter the rules of the market to meet their needs. But to exercise that power, they must understand what is happening and where their interests lie, and they must join together. We have done so before. If history is any guide and common sense has any sway, we will do so again.
* Martin Luther King, Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community? (1967).
You can watch the video of Robert Reich’s talk at Town Hall here.
What worries you most, and/or excites you most, about the future of work and workers? Put another way: What will be the most consequential changes in the world of work and workers, and what anxieties and possibilities will they produce?
I was invited to respond to this question with a short essay for a column, “The Future of Work and Workers,” in Pacific Standard, a print and online magazine with a U.S. western perspective and a national readership. The Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences at Stanford asked the same question of business and union leaders, social scientists, technology thinkers, activists, and journalists from around the world. The columns were published every weekday from early August through November, 2015.1 My essay, “Unpaid, in Spite of Their Value,” appeared on November 3, 2015. An updated and slightly revised version of it follows here. — Anne Focke, February 7, 2020
“I sit as artists have sat for centuries, laboring unpaid. Yet I am sure this is work. I am sure it is productive, and I hope it will be of value.” Marilyn Waring wrote this in the first paragraph of her 1989 book, If Women Counted: A New Feminist Economics. The contributors to this column could have written it now, in 2015.
I’m sure all of the contributors labored over their essays, and I’m certain the columns are of value. They raise questions that matter, offer a wide range of perspectives, identify problems, and suggest directions we might take to find answers, maybe even inspiring us to action. Yet payment was not part of the bargain.
The work of writers and journalists and poets is an essential public good and a fundamental part of civil society. In most cases we work for something more than a financial return. You might say it’s a “calling,” or a strong inner impulse toward a particular course of action, one we likely consider a moral good.
When Marilyn Waring wrote her book, I was an artist and moved primarily in artists’ worlds. Observing us as a group, I wondered why we didn’t seem to fit into the economy, despite hard and persistent work and the value the art gave to so many. The artists around me made a distinction between the “jobs” that paid their bills and the “work” they felt compelled to do. Although some artists find a niche for their work that pays well, the percentage of income that most artists earn from their art work – that is, not from their jobs of teaching, waitressing, data entry, or bus driving – is nominal.
The distinction between jobs and work serves me still. Although I first saw this scenario among artists, many people do work that’s valuable to others but that goes unpaid or is paid poorly. It’s valuable work, but it’s a terrible job. Work that strengthens the common good – caring for the young and the old, teaching and sharing knowledge, making songs and poems, improving the environment, or engaging civically in our democracy – seems to fall low on the pay scale or outside it altogether. And the increasing inequality of our economic system is making this worse. I’m reminded of another column in this series in which Lydia DePillis asks: “Why should a fast-food cook or a home health aide make less than a machine operator anyway?” To which I’d add, is the work somehow inherently less valuable?
Many of us who work in public service or for the common good care about our work. We often actually like working, especially when it matters in the lives of others. The problem is it’s hard to make a living this way.
Can this ever change? Can we who labor for the common good can find common cause? Can we activate a collective will to be part of finding and fighting for solutions that would let us and others dedicate ourselves to work with purpose and meaning, while also making a decent living – with health care, time off, and savings for when we can’t work?
To find common ground we need starting points. The words and music, images and stories of poets and song writers, visual artists and theater workers can inspire us. Our common ground can draw on knowledge gained in many different lines of work to spark ideas and help put words to what we’ve experienced.
We won’t find common cause in the workplace where workers have found it in the past. The fact is, many of us work in what has been called the “gig economy.” All of us are scattered across distances as independent contractors, freelancers, temporary or part-time workers, and volunteers. How will we find common cause when we don’t have a shared workplace in the conventional sense? Where can we gather and talk, share our anger and frustration as well as our creativity and new ideas? What spaces serve as today’s office water cooler?
As I look around me, I see gatherings already happening in many different kinds of spaces. I hear of more conversations and salons, roundtables and house meetings now than I have in decades. For the most part they don’t emerge from specific workplaces, and they tend to be, like our work, dispersed and unconnected. Some have names, like Soup Salon, Geeks Who Drink, Civic Cocktails, Poetry Potluck, the World Dance Party, Pecha Kucha, Think and Drink, and many more just in my town, Seattle. Others are unnamed and take place in small shared work spaces that we make ourselves in coffee shops, in artists’ shared studios, or in co-working spaces. And yet more take place after work in parking lots and bars and at meetings in living rooms or on weekends in churches and at our kids’ soccer games.
Speaking in Seattle in 2014 about the future of work, Andy Stern – former president of the Service Employees International Union – stressed the importance of aligning our economy with work that’s valuable and needed in society. As one idea, he suggested we find a way to provide a baseline income to people who do this valuable work.2 His closing message was, “We just don’t have a great set of new ideas!” What we need now, he stressed, “is a whole group of people who will come up with a whole new set of ideas for how to do this.”
So where will the ideas come from?
As artists have learned through time, we will just have to do it ourselves, that is, all of us, laboring purposefully and often unpaid. If we come together in many configurations, across different industries and interests, asking questions, arguing, sharing what we know, being inspired to learn more and if we then begin to connect and share with other groups doing the same, we just may find not only the great new ideas but also a revitalized sense of the common good.