Enter Unpaid Arts Invoices Into the World’s Longest Invoice

A screenshot of the World's Longest Invoice, organized by the Freelancers Union.

LOS ANGELES — Why are (most) artists (so fucking) poor? Dismal figures explored in two recent Hyperallergic posts by William Powhida (with data and graphics by W.A.G.E.) point to a low valuation of artists’ time and money. The facts and figures are a compelling read.

Another reason might be that artists just aren’t getting paid what they’re owed. Anecdotally, I’ve certainly heard many horror stories of people in the art world being taken advantage of and promised they never receive.  So I was already primed to pay attention when I heard about The World’s Longest Invoice. According to DeskMag, freelance workers make up a third of the workforce, but a disproportionate number of them — 77 percent — have not been paid for their work at one time or another. This is clearly Not a Good Thing. And since most artists operate in a freelance capacity, I suspect many are affected.

The Invoice has a simple premise: gather data on services rendered and amount owed. DeskMag says their goal is to reach document $1 million in unpaid invoices, but the site has already shot past a staggering $7 million. Ultimately, the invoice will be used to advocate for change:

The measure aims to highlight the breadth of the problem and inequity of current labour laws. The final invoice will be delivered to the Senate Labour Committee of New York urging them to pass The Freelancer Payment Protection Act, helping independent workers collect money from delinquent clients for unpaid invoices over US $600.

This reminds me of Hyperallergic editor Hrag Vartanian’s $ecret$ of the New York Art World project, where he surveyed anyone who was still owed any money from someone in the New York art world. The problem isn’t restricted to the art world, but it’s certainly quite common. For now, a quick glance at the recent entries in the World’s Longest Invoice reveals folks mostly operating in a design capacity, and it would be good to see more people involved in visual and performance art, curatorial research, arts administration, art handling and other art-related fields represented as well.

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