ArtLeaks Plans Gazette to Talk About Art-World Corruption

by Jillian Steinhauer on September 28, 2012

Zampa di Leone, "ArtLeaks"

Zampa di Leone, “ArtLeaks” (2011) (image via Facebook)

The art world is a notoriously secretive place. Even though it’s pretty much universally agreed upon that the system and its attendant economics are royally screwed up, people are still hesitant to talk openly about the problems. In the past year, thankfully, this has been shifting a bit, due in part to the efforts of Occupy Museums, Arts & Labor, and other OWS-offshoot groups, as well as organizations like W.A.G.E., which presented the data it gathered from a 2010 survey about payments to artists who exhibited with nonprofit institutions. (The conclusion? Artists are [fucking] poor. Why? Because they often go unpaid.)

But there’s still plenty of corruption and injustice to go around, and one group trying to fight that is ArtLeaks. Created by a crew of curators, artists, art historians, and critics, and modeling its title on the infamous WikiLeaks, ArtLeaks is trying to bring that same level of whistle-blowing transparency to the art world. They function in a similar way to WikiLeaks, too, asking people to submit (anonymously or not) reports on situations at cultural institutions with accompanying evidence — firsthand reports, email correspondence, official documents, etc.

But now the group is going one step further — or backwards, depending on how you view the act of publishing an art journal — and creating the ArtLeaks Gazette. The gazette will be dedicated to the same core themes and issues, but with an open invitation to any writers who have something to say. The founders explain their reasoning on the ArtLeaks website:

After over a year of activity, we, members of the collective ArtLeaks felt an urgent need to establish a regular on-line publication as a tool for empowerment in the face of the systemic abuse of cultural workers’ basic labor rights, repression or even blatant censorship and growing corporatization of culture that we encounter today.

These are issues we’ve written about at Hyperallergic before, so I’m excited about the prospect of an entire journal built around these questions. I’m also, admittedly, a little worried about dense, theoretical and Occupy-esque jargon creeping in and obscuring the debate, but let’s stay hopeful for now.

The theme for the first issue will be “Breaking the Silence — Towards Justice, Solidarity and Mobilization,” with the journal  broken up into six sections, among them “Critique of cultural dominance apparatuses” and “Education and its discontents.” ArtLeaks is taking submissions until December 31, and the resulting gazette will be published online under a Creative Commons attribution noncommercial-share license. There’s no mention on the website of whether contributors will be paid — which, given the context, seems pretty important.

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  • ChristopherM

    Sweet write-up, Jillian – I really think that artists need this.
    It could help everyone in the long run, and I have no doubt that there are no shortage of whistles to blow. Hopefully artists will step up. I know why it’s hard, there are reasons … I like the anonymity option here. The attention could help discourage some pretty brazen and/or unethical stuff … which, unfortunately, tons of artists know are way too common and taken for granted too often as ‘just the way it is’ or ‘the way it’s done’. It isn’t fair and completely honest to characterize all of them as just dues to be paid by artists — especially regarding concerns about who and what the dues might be ultimately paid to and ‘why/what for’ sometimes, and why artists tend to be expected to pay so many “dues” for such little concern, appreciation, or $ in return … etc. Ethical practice is hardly unreasonable (NOTE to artists with whistles: this is where as much evidence + integrity + reasonableness you can come up with is pretty critical to your case).

    Always good to get what you can in writing. That’s not always easy or universally applicable, IMO … I’ve been in some scrappy DIY shows and such that I felt totally fine with … and I’m really just talking about basic, standard contracts for exhibits. Save your emails … just in case something screwy goes down. Who knows, right? I also share the concerns about density and too much jargon, but hopefully artists can check it and remember these are just plain old universal human worker problems.

  • Mat Gleason

    Institutions, Non-Profits and Universities = GOOD… Galleries selling = BAD, Middle class artists trying to earn a living = “UNINFORMED”, Rich kids on trust funs with the lingo of the month = ENLIGHTENED.

  • ChristopherM

    Wow, I seriously should have taken a look at their website before I posted the above comment – it’s definitely not what I had in mind. D’oh! I pictured something on a way smaller scale, or with room for it that didn’t seem overwhelmed … more small and easily actionable things. The language already looks very dense, intimidating, and very grand. I think the sorts of situations/grievances I’ve encountered as a small artist would just seem incredibly puny and insufficiently revolutionary in the massively ambitious Occupy context they seem to be going for. Kind of a real bummer from my perspective, but best of luck to them with their Gazette and all the rest of it.

    • Jillian Steinhauer

      Aw, why do you say that?! I mean, yeah, I agree that the language is already a bit dense and mighty and intimidating (hence my concerns voiced in the piece), but I’m not sure your grievances or situations would seem puny…?! And if they did, then maybe that just says there’s need for something smaller and more localized that creates a space for airing those issues. Aiming to expose large-scale corruption and problems is obviously a great goal, but I think it’s often the smaller instances that demonstrate how endemic certain practices (like not paying artists) are.

      • ChristopherM

        Yeah, you’re right. I think my comment above sounds too dismissive of ArtLeaks – after all, my own feelings are in line with the mission they have anyway (corruption, bad influence + unscrupulous traditions all up in this silly business at any level, beyond belief … screw that + screw those players who won’t cut it out) – just because it wasn’t exactly what I was picturing in my head. Specifically, in relation to the much more very localized and small-scale (relative to the cases I perused on the ArtLeaks website), cut-and-dry situations I’ve encountered over the years that would have been hard to flesh out beyond a simple description of a simple thing that happens: selling and not getting the money in as reasonable and prompt a manner as was definitely possible would be just one example (from a less-than-very-famous dealer/gallery, perhaps). For all I know, these might easily turn into ‘not getting paid in full or at all’ situations. Thankfully, for myself, I’m able to sometimes drum persistent and unrelenting reminders + following such folks to the ends of the earth if need be, for as long as it takes, even all the way to the extreme of getting possibly somewhat obnoxious (hard to believe, but it”s happened. I blame my parents when that happens — but you better believe I got paid my money in those cases).

        Anyway, so that’s the sort of thing that I couldn’t help thinking that the existence of a simple public depository of whistle-blowing stories with a more local flavor to provide germ-killing sunshine/transparency/pressure like ArtLeaks might have made a some struggles/problems a little simpler to resolve (and w/ a bit more expediency). More importantly, it would be available to others who I’m sure have been in situations similar to my own but maybe were less willing to ruin a ‘business relationship’ or their own ‘business reputation’ with an uneasy confrontation/discussion … or to just make it publicly available who art workers should be wary of. I’m actually a generally quiet and polite and mild-mannered fellow in most of my daily interactions, so I know how hard that feels. They were definitely difficult and uncomfortable situations for me. I still don’t think stuff like the above example will always fit well in the context of the other cases on their site (which are still important issues, most definitely) …. but like you suggested, it is only that more things like this are needed. Because yes, the spirit within the very same larger problems on ArtLeaks are definitely all over the place … “how endemic certain practices […] are”, like you said. No reason ArtLeaks has to back away from what they are doing for that to happen, that doesn’t really make sense. hmm. Wish I knew how to make/promote an actual website like that!

        In short … I got too droopy and down that ArtLeaks didn’t look exactly like the thing I wanted it to look like at first. But I bucked up and I feel much better now. :)

        • Jillian Steinhauer

          Ha! I’m glad to hear it. And I must say, the scenarios you’re describing sound ridiculously familiar—hounding people for money (even meager sums), chasing them down, poking, emailing, pleading, what have you. Being an artist sounds a lot like being a freelance writer.

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