Unpaid Work Alert: Performa Seeks Writers [UPDATED]

by Jillian Steinhauer on March 18, 2014

(image by Flattr, via Flickr)

(image by Flattr, via Flickr)

Yesterday over email, Performa publicized a call they’d announced a few weeks earlier, seeking writers-in-residence for 2014. The well-known performance art biennial also produces Performa Magazine, and the online publication is seeking four yearlong writers-in-residence. As the call states:

Fellows will exhibit a wide-ranging and cross-disciplinary background with the ability to produce high-quality writing informed of themes, concepts, and issues of live art and performance with substantial academic and historical consideration.

Qualifications include “a degree or current enrollment at the graduate or postgraduate level,” “a strong background in fine arts, art history, art criticism and journalism with experience writing about art and culture,” and the ability to commit to a year of work, ultimately producing “four to six articles or features.”

The catch? The entire thing is unpaid.

Now, technically, artist and writer residencies do not need to be paid, and many of them aren’t (although some are!). But what real residences offer is freedom, the space and time to pursue one’s work further — a cabin in which to finish that novel, a studio in which to finish that painting series. The Performa Magazine position, given its specific requirements, sounds a whole lot more like an internship than a residency. And an unpaid one.

Look, we’ve had this conversation before. We’ll have it again, and keep having it, until “unpaid opportunities” (Performa’s words) such as these go away. I know there’s not exactly buckets of money to be had in performance art, but if you genuinely want to help emerging writers and critics, pay them for their work. Even a little bit goes a long way.

h/t @stacey_allan

Update, 3/30: Happily, Performa has announced that they will now be offering writers in residence honorariums.

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  • Sam Binder

    Is like popular joke, what did starving artist die of?


  • Beau Toutant

    I am very aware that this is a much bigger problem than just the arts, but… Initially, most internships were paid and led to permanent positions. Concerning writers: In the 70s, writers often were paid $1 per word…sometimes $2. (As a graphic artist, in the early 80s, I was paid $25 an hour, a freelance rate that still exists today for many.) And that was 30, 40 years ago!!! What does hyper pay its contributors? $1 a word? The under/non-payment for many, especially writers, is appalling. Big picture…if writers were paid what they deserve (even what they were paid decades ago), the quality of writing would be enhanced, not to mention, the writer’s lifestyle.

    • Chicken Fingers

      In the 70s, were **arts journalists** paid $1 per word or are you thinking of advertising copywriters?

      • Beau Toutant

        Some journalists, not necessarily art journalists, were paid $1 per word…sometimes $2. (In the 70s and 80s where I was employed, copywriters were compensated more than art writers are today. They made a comfortable living wage.) I think, in a way, employers will pay what they can “get away with”. If a person will work for nothing or pennies, that’s what they’ll earn. But, at the same time as a writer, why knock yourself out if you’re getting little or nothing for your work (unless it’s for a cause or a friend)? Frankly, I don’t know how employers can look themselves in the mirror when they don’t pay what people were paid DECADES ago. Shame on them. Again I’ll query, what does hyper pay? $1 a word?

        • Stacey Allan

          $1/word is far from the going rate for arts writing, and nonprofits pay less. The issue isn’t even fair pay at this point, but pay at all. If you aren’t paying writers fees/artists fees, you shouldn’t be publishing/presenting. Scale back. Do you need a magazine at this cost? You have 100,000 subscribers and don’t think you should bother setting aside a few bucks for the people producing that work for you? It’s terrible.

          • Beau Toutant

            Some, very few, actually pay $1 – $2/word today, even in this economy. But, most pay a pittance, if anything, using their profits from advertising for sponsorships, travel and the like. Writers should make a living wage.

        • Chicken Fingers

          There is no way Hyper could pay $1/word.

          Let’s say they publish four articles a day at 500 words each. And there are 30 days in a month. (The above article is exceptionally short, yet would have cost $266.)

          That’s $60,000 a month.

          Do you think Hyper makes $60,000 a month off advertising revenue? It’s difficult to believe you’ve worked in publishing, much less web publishing.

          I’ve made $1/word writing about art, but that is in a very well known print publication and not one in the art world like ArtNews, Artforum, or whatever. The Brooklyn Rail pays NOTHING.

          Who could have paid Allison Meier $1,736 for what she’s published today alone? The New York Times couldn’t afford that. I understand your general complaint about shitty pay, but your witch hunt is absurd.

          • Stacey Allan

            I also can’t imagine what publication pays anywhere near that amount. It would be great if the glossy ones with luxury brand advertisers found a way, but I’d hate to see the publishing field limited to only those. Bottom line, every publication (commercial or nonprofit) has to figure out how to cover its expenses and make it happen.

            Unfortunately, organizations like PERFORMA and others are putting writers & artists at the bottom of the list and offering NOTHING instead of even a modest fee. If they have that sort of platform and can’t scare up enough money to pay writers and artists, that’s a DECISION to screw writers and artists—not an inevitability. It’s a decision to build their brand on the idea of supporting artists, while actually contributing to their decline.

          • Chicken Fingers

            They want people who write about performance art. Anyone who has the academic background to qualify for their position doesn’t need money and likely never will. No “salt of the earth” person has ever heard of Performa.

            Frankly, I have little sympathy for all the bellyaching artists and art writers do about what they don’t get in the world of pretentiousness and luxury they willfully entered.

            If no one wants to pay an artist to cover themselves in chocolate and flop around on the floor, much less write on such a breathtaking work of art, I don’t see any injustice being done.

          • Beau Toutant

            I’m not saying hyper should pay $1/word. I was wondering what they pay contributors and, possibly, interns. (It’s probably none of my business.) I am, however, aware of an art venue that pays $2/word today, but it’s a limited source.
            I worked in advertising as a graphic and layout artist. And, I did know journalists who earned $1/word. (They didn’t write 30 articles a month, an article per day. And, for sure, they didn’t write for free.)

          • Chicken Fingers

            >I am, however, aware of an art venue that pays $2/word today, but it’s a limited source.

            There is no art publication that produces the amount of content Hyper does – a day – that pays $2 a word. I write about art for a living, so I will be happy to pay you $50 to tell me the publication and prove this is true. Not kidding.

          • Beau Toutant

            It doesn’t produce the amount of content that hyper does. It’s a limited addition art publication that I’m not at liberty to divulge. I appreciate your $50 offer.

          • Chicken Fingers

            >It doesn’t not

            So it does. Sorry, that’s just not true.

            How about I pay you $50 to tell me of a publication that produced more fine art-related content than Hyper. Surely there’s no NDA on file for that.

            EDIT: In any case, if you want to know how much Hyper pays, just pitch Hrag a story and see if he will pay you to write it.

          • Beau Toutant

            My mistake, the double negative. I do not know of any publication that produces the amount of art content that hyper does. But, the $2/word is fact for a limited art publication that’s invitation only. (What’s NDA?)

          • Chicken Fingers

            Non-disclosure Agreement :)

  • Severine7

    Yes, sad to see an unpaid gig couched in the more glamorous term “residency.” Now that’s some clever copywriting.

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