Join UsThe Arts Union is dedicated to building power among artists and arts workers to live dignified, joyous lives. Attending a bimonthly general meeting is the best way to get connected to the Arts Union, and its various working groups and projects! Check out our calendar on the events page. The next public meeting is TBA.
Points of Unity
- We see power in collective organizing and in active solidarity. This includes labor unions, collectives, coalitions, coops, guilds and political formations of all kinds within the arts. Though we are a group of artists and arts workers, we support the labor organizing inside and outside of the arts as we understand that our collective struggles are intertwined. The atomized culture of the arts is a manifestation of the political regime of neoliberalism, architected by hegemonic power, and is against the interests of its workers.
- We honor the historic efforts to organize arts workers, including the Black Emergency Cultural Coalition of 1969, and the Artists Union of 1933, among many others. We are building on the work of Occupy Arts & Labor, Art + Museum Transparency, Decolonize This Place, the Guerilla Girls, Gulf Labor, W.A.G.E., among many others.
- We have a responsibility to organize and share knowledge against all intersected forms of oppression starting with whiteness, racial capitalism, patriarchy, cisheteronormativity, settler-colonialism, climate injustice, ableism, neurotypicality, ageism and xenophobia. We know that a better society would recognize and uplift indigenous rights and abolish whiteness and white supremacy. We demand that reparations, land restitution, and the abolition of capitalism are imperative to our collective survival. We see what is colloquially referred to as the “art world” as a site of opportunity to enact many of these revolutionary initiatives now, not later. For better or for worse, we constitute this industry, and through this Union, we begin where our feet are. We are organizing against the practices of toxic philanthropy, artwashing, reputation laundering, financial exploitation, and harmful speculation that goes on in the art world.
- We will not let our complicity become an excuse for inaction. Organizing within the art world means a deepening of our relationship to it, yes, but as is true with organizing in any industry, it also means a deepening of one’s relationship to community and a more equitable vision for the future. The first step to addressing this complicity is to come together in active solidarity.
- Artmaking is a political process. Transgressive, representational or utopian art is not a substitute for organizing and collective solidarity. We reject the idea that the only, or the most important political capacity that artists have is through the production of their own artistic work. The limit to an artist’s political capacity only extends as far as their willingness to engage in community and active solidarity. Artmaking and its presentation are symbolic representation, and they are not a substitute for material changes such as reparations, land back, or the redistribution of resources.
- Remaining disorganized harms the most vulnerable in our society. The crisis in the arts is already here, and subsequent crises are inevitable. Every time and place a crisis emerges, the victims of the conflict are left to their own devices to rally artists and arts workers to their cause. By remaining disorganized, artists and arts workers are burdening those victims further—displacing the work of our own organization onto them.
- Artists and arts workers must see each other as allies, including all labor that comprises our industry, from maintenance staff to operations. We know that everyone has the right to safety, which includes safe housing, universal health care, and safety from state violence. In the workplace, everyone has the right to safe working conditions, including the right to work free from sexual and racist harassment. Our collective work supports each other's daily lives. Although all of our members are in different roles and jobs in the art world, some more visible than others, we recognize that we are all tenants in the same system, and there are no limits to our ability to see each other and work collectively.
- Our organizing demands the decentering of whiteness and ultimately the abolition of white supremacy. We acknowledge the fundamental violence of white supremacy in shaping property relations and commit to dismantling whiteness as it manifests in the (art) world. We recognize that no organizing effort can succeed in creating real justice without directly combatting the ways in which racism and anti-Blackness continue to structure every aspect of our social, political, and economic relations. We reject whiteness as a scientific category or legitimate ethnic group, and we understand whiteness as a relatively recent historical invention and tool of oppression.
- Art has immense value that greatly exceeds its instrumentalization by the ruling class. Art and culture has been identified by the most wealthy and powerful members of society as a worthwhile space to occupy and control. They use art as a hegemonic force to validate their position in society, launder their reputation, evade taxes, and pump money back into their siloed off financial systems of which only they benefit. We are here for different reasons. We recognize art and creativity have unlimited and self-evident values -- key among them are community, experimentation, and visionary forward thinking.
- We reject the notion that artistic labor is in any way exceptional such that exposure, opportunity, or experience, are acceptable substitutes for a living wage. We can recognize the arts for having specific values without sacrificing our understanding of its role in commerce and labor. Artists and arts workers deserve to live decently with financial compensation for the work they do.
- We advocate for robust public funding for the arts. Access to the arts include arts education programs, free higher education, free entry to museums, and support for community-led spaces. We demand that everyone should have access to art.
- As artists and arts workers, we must disaffiliate from donor-class philanthropic structures. Most artists go their whole lives without the support of collectors or donors, and so we know that the philanthropic class is incapable and uninterested in supporting the entire ecosystem of artistic labor. The only way someone can generate enough wealth to meaningfully participate in arts philanthropy is through violence, expropriation, and dispossession.
- It is time to fight the ruling class in their space. We are tired of conflicts within our homes, workplaces and communities. It is always our health insurance that we might lose, our rent that we can’t afford, and our neighborhoods that are occupied by the police state. In the arts, we have a unique opportunity to bring the fight directly to the ruling class who continuously inflict harm by revoking the privilege of arts’ reputational laundering effects. They have made the space of art theirs- art lives in their museums, their collections, and is bought and sold in their marketplaces. We move and act in these spaces with collective solidarity to challenge their hegemonic control of culture, which they need to maintain their status as imperial rulers.
- We need to address the aspirational mentality of artists and arts workers. Our aspirations and desire to be respectable are used against us. We assert that you can be an artist, you can be an arts worker, without needing to perform respectability and professionalism. In reality, the function of our aspirations in this industry is to validate and authorize the obscene heights of the market. The top of the market depends on the failure of every artist and arts worker who doesn’t make it to create the mythology of a free market meritocracy.
The goal of this FAQ is to help clarify the status of, and introduce potential members to, the group’s ongoing work. The document will be edited to reflect our conversations.
How is the Arts Union Structured?
Link to our Bylaws. General Meetings are held every other week. Committee meetings run on their own schedules.
Is there a fee to be a member?
There will be a dues for membership, but we have not implemented them yet. When we do, it will be democratically implemented with care.
How will these goals be realized? What is the relationship between long-term and short-term goals?
Our group brings together artists and art workers who share our vision for the art world. We understand that you make power by using power, so our short-term initiatives are designed to be achievable. If we can position ourselves to impact future institutional conflicts, we will raise the general profile of our union and thus build power to address other initiatives. While we are based in the United States, we are engaged in international industry-wide movement-building to build a foundation of power.
What are the longer-term goals in the institutional sector?
We see the ongoing, seemingly never resolved national confrontation between workers and management at arts institutions along the lines of race, colonization, and class violence as a clear indication that the very roles and structures of all arts institutions need to be broken down entirely. This goes to the heart of the mission of our group.
What longer-term goals does the union have for the commercial sector?
We aim to promote a long-term agenda that will address the precarity and concentration of power that the current configuration of the art market enables through “tried and true” labor organizing tactics such as strikes, boycotts, proposals, grievances, campaigns, and political education.
Artists and arts workers are atomized and disorganized, and yet, gallerists, institutions, and collectors are all extremely well organized. There are many groups and associations that tend to the long term commercial interests of all members of this industry except artists and arts workers, and so we believe that in simply organizing ourselves around promoting our best interests new forms and goals will naturally grow out of our conversations. The potential for cooperative artist and arts worker owned galleries, schools, and institutions is particularly exciting.
What short term goals does the union have for the commercial sector of the art world?
Short term goals on the commercial side of the art world include intervening in business conflicts between artists and commercial entities. Examples include private, direct conflict mediation, public statements, and in-person actions and picket lines. Additionally, we have discussed implementing a best practices contract or something similar to preemptively address some of these issues.
All of our conversations point toward a common-sense initiative of allowing artists to capture residuals on secondary-market sales of their work. This is one of our main objectives. We acknowledge that this system would only be as strong as its ability to be enforced, and would thus require some level of cooperation among institutions, which is only achievable alongside a political movement to support it.
What role does the union play in institutional conflicts, such as the Kanders controversy at the Whitney Museum Of American Art?
Intervening in institutional conflict is one of the primary functions of the union, and the main impetus for these conversations. From the beginning, we hope to set up some mechanism to enable the union to respond democratically to certain grievances. We see the current disorganized state of our field as a burden on certain individuals; with each new conflict, the task of rallying artists to the cause largely starts from scratch.
Regarding the Kanders/Whitney narrative, we see the initial letter signed by over 100 museum staff as something that would have triggered a response from our group. An internal democratic mechanism is in place to approve a proposed response. In other cases, museum staff may come directly to us to discuss a developing situation, and we may work with them to orchestrate an initial public response. Everything the Arts Union does is membership driven, and so it’s up the members to steer the Union through their proposals.
What kind of organization is it formally? Trade union? Non-profit?
At present, we resemble a trade union but will not affiliate with a larger union or seek recognition as a union by the NLRB, in order to be more flexible with our future actions and campaigns. The laws regulating labor and licensing do not usually relate to the primary activities of artists, who are not employed by any single arts organization. As many of our prospective members are employed in multiple capacities, often on a freelance basis; if we affiliated with an actual union, it would present conflicts with the other unions that might represent workers at their workplaces. However, we are in regular conversation with members and leaders of other recognized unions, and many of our members are also a part of other unions.
Within the spectrum of kinds of labor organizations, there are many different models and not all successful organizations have needed formal union affiliations or bargaining agreements. Many European film unions work this way, and the first Artists Union from the 1930s was unaffiliated for many years when it successfully lobbied for the WPA funding.
What is the main objective of the group?
On the broadest level, our objective is to redefine and refocus the values, institutions, and structures of the art world. We recognize that arts work is akin to other forms of labor, and yet, we also recognize that arts labor comes with additional complications that no existing labor organization within the field is currently addressing.
We see the current configuration of the art world as a place that casually embraces oppressive politics, including but not limited to white supremacy, gross economic inequality, (trans)misogyny, and environmental destruction, without any structural accountability. We see our labor within the art world being used as a veil of cultural piety for the ruling-class actors who promote their violent politics within and outside of the art world. These problems cannot be undone without power. Building power to challenge these issues starts by standing up and standing together. When we fight for our rights as workers, we can change the nature of the industry, to make art resemble the values that drew us to it in the first place.
We are building on the work of groups such as the Artists Union of 1933, The Federation of Artists of 1871, and the Black Emergency Cultural Coalition of 1968, among many others, whose legacies we hope to build on.
Who are the group’s members?
We are currently organizing with artists and arts workers: arts writers, curators, academics, historians, educators, arts organizers, gallery or museum workers, and art handlers—more or less all members of the art world who are not dealers, major collectors, funders, gallerists, consultants, or high-level institutional administrators.
We hope that gallerists, directors, and/or dealers will support us in this organizing effort, and we are happy that there are a number of organizations that already cater to their interests.
What is the union’s scale? National? International?
Most of our current membership is based in the United States. We hope to be able to incorporate international members who deal with US institutions, but as of now, we are primarily in dialogue and seeking coalition with existing international groups, such as Art Workers Italia, bbk berlin (Professional Association of Visual Artists Berlin), Cultural Workers Alliance Greece, The Association of Norwegian Visual Artists (NBK), and Young Artists Society (UKS), among others.
Bylaws of The Arts Union
ARTICLE I: NAME AND LOCATION
- Section 1. Name.
Until a name is ratified by the membership, the organization will be referred to as “The Arts Union.”
- Section 2. Location.
The Arts Union was formed in the United States.
ARTICLE II: PURPOSE
- Section 1. Purpose.
The Arts Union is a democratically controlled membership organization seeking to build power, solidarity, and organize workers within the global art industry. The Arts Union is committed to working against the forces of settler colonialism, anti-blackness, and white supremacy—in and outside of the arts industry.
- Section 2. Points of Unity.
The Arts Union has outlined several Points of Unity that can be found in the living “Points of Unity” document. These key points are essential to the founding, purpose, and mission of The Arts Union.
ARTICLE III: MEMBERSHIP
- Section 1. Eligibility.
Membership is open to all artists and arts workers regardless of location who determine that they have a shared interest in the purpose of The Arts Union and agree to our Points of Unity. Exceptions to our open membership policy may be made on a case-by-case basis by The Arts Union with a discussion and vote (two-third majority) in any meeting. Membership eligibility is envisioned to exceed the limitations normally imposed on traditional labor organizing.
- Section 2. Becoming a Member.
Any eligible person can become a member of The Arts Union upon attending one meeting and submitting the membership intake form to The Arts Union. Prospective members must attend one on-boarding meeting, then subsequently maintain good standing. Membership intake and public listing in the Union will occur after every general meeting. The Organizing Committee is responsible for facilitating the membership process and maintaining records.
- Section 3. Defining Membership.
- Members in good standing have the right to submit proposals for discussion and ratification in any membership meeting. See Article V Section 3.
- Members in good standing have the right to vote in any election that occurs in any meeting at which they are in virtual or physical attendance.
- All members are eligible to join any committee, subject to the limitations determined by the committee in question.
- Members can form any working group or subcommittee that they want to organize, see Article IV Section 3.
- Members who uphold the aforementioned Community Agreements and the member duties shall be considered in good standing.
- Section 4. Member Duties.
- Members are required to attend at least four Meetings per year. At least two must be Regular Meetings.
- The names of all members are publicly documented.
- Members must participate in good faith in community accountability.
- All members must pay membership dues to The Arts Union, if applicable, and when The Arts Union determines to levy them.
- Section 5. Community Agreement.
All members are expected to adhere to standards of behavior outlined in the document called Community Agreement.
- Section 6. Termination.
- Members can voluntarily terminate their membership at any time by informing The Arts Union in writing.
- Inactivity (not attending meetings) for a year may result in involuntary termination from membership. Members will be notified to the best ability of the Union prior to removal.
- Failure to pay dues may result in involuntary termination, members will be notified to the best ability of the Union prior to their removal.
- Involuntary termination of any member for any other reason than inactivity must pass a super majority vote.
ARTICLE IV: OFFICER COMMITTEES
- Section 1. Organizing Committee.
- The Organizing Committee, herein referred to as the “OC,” is responsible for maintaining the meetings calendar, creating and distributing agendas, and bottom-lining and facilitating Regular Meetings, in addition to all other duties outlined and mentioned in the bylaws.
- The OC is committed to progressively representing a necessary breadth of perspectives and experiences in its membership.
- The OC is responsible for processing membership, and the subsequent on-boarding meeting required by Becoming A Member guidelines outlined in Article III
- Section 2.
- The OC is currently responsible for assigning and filling roles to perform all of its necessary administrative and organizational functions of The Arts Union.
- The OC is responsible for processing members dues.
- The OC is a volunteer-led formation that any Member can join. Any restrictions for a Member to join the OC must be brought to and approved by membership with a Super Majority vote.
- Section 2. Forming Sub-Committees.
Members in good standing are invited to form sub-committees by using the following process. Once formed, it will be expected that committees keep minutes, publicize meetings, and report-back to general membership.
- Sub-Committees are self-selective and based on the interests of members of good standing. It is up to the members forming the sub committee to determine the scope, purpose, and goals of the sub-committee.
- Sub-Committees can be formed and dissolved at will and as needed by any three members.
- Membership has the ability to impose elected positions, term-limits, etc., on committees.
- Sub-Committees are subject to approval by a simple majority vote in a Regular Meeting.
ARTICLE V: MEETINGS
- Section 1. Regular Meetings.
All Regular Meetings follow standards set in the Community Agreements.
- The OC programs Regular Meetings every other week. The OC determines the best date and time by polling members. The OC ensures that Regular meetings will be facilitated.
- The OC drafts and distributes the agendas at least one day before Regular Meetings.
- Any Member can submit agenda items by sending them to the OC at least one day in advance of the meeting.
- The purpose of Regular Meetings is to facilitate ongoing conversations, hold proposal ratifications, and facilitate special presentations and activities.
- The OC records notes and makes them available to all members. One audio recording is taken and archived for internal purposes only.
- Any member can propose changes to the protocol, format and documentation of a meeting through a proposal to the facilitator prior to the meeting.
- Section 2. Organizing Committee Meetings.
- The OC holds separate organizing meetings on an ad-hoc and as needed basis.
- These meetings are open to all members, all members have access to the calendar for said organizer meetings.
- Section 3. Voting (or Decision-Making procedures for General Meetings).
- Membership voting is the primary decision-making tool of The Arts Union.
- Determining vote type:
- Check bylaws to see if proposal falls into specific voting categories mentioned;
- Proposal contains specific vote types;
- Otherwise all votes are a regular simple majority.
- Determining vote type:
- All members in good standing with the organization can vote. The majority requirements of each vote are specified in the bylaws regarding the topic of the vote, otherwise the majority requirements are determined by the member raising the issue to be voted on — another member can require a simple majority vote to approve the proposed requirements.
- Members that identify as black or indigenous can cast two votes whenever they choose.
- Any member can propose a vote, which will be facilitated by the OC. Members who wish to call a vote on a specific proposal must email an OC member directly at least three days before the meeting intended for the vote to take place.
- The proposal should include whether it is a Union-wide vote or a meeting vote. This requires consensus from the organizing committee to proceed, and if there is no consensus it will be put to a simple majority meeting vote to determine vote type.
- Proposals should be submitted in writing, between 100 and 200 words.
- A meeting must have a minimum of 15 members present to vote.
- For issues that arise during a meeting that require an immediate vote, any member can call for such a vote and needs both a second from an additional member and approval from the meetings facilitator.
- To vote, a member must be present in the meeting that the vote takes place.
- Any one or more members may participate in general meetings by means of a conference telephone, video chat, or similar communications equipment as long as all persons participating in the meeting can communicate with each other at the same time. Such participation shall be considered attendance at the meeting for all purposes, including determination of a quorum.
- Vote types that require Union-wide membership are the exceptions to this rule and may be conducted remotely outside of meetings.
- Voting mechanisms are typically not anonymous, however if any member or group of members prefers that votes be cast anonymously they can include this request with their proposal to the OC.
- The results of a vote take immediate effect, unless otherwise specified.
- Membership voting is the primary decision-making tool of The Arts Union.
ARTICLE VI: AMENDMENTS
- Section 1. Amending Documents.
Any document can be amended by a membership vote that reaches 75% approval. The OC is responsible for archiving old versions of all documents, as well as managing the meeting notes. It is wholly expected that this living document will be amended to accommodate the growth of the Union and its goals and functions. To levy member dues, the Bylaws will need to be amended to accommodate spending and fiscal procedures.
ARTICLE VII: TERM
- Section 1. Ratifying aforementioned Bylaws.
The Bylaws will take effect on January 19, 2021 and remain in effect until amended. The Bylaws will be approved once confirmed unanimously be all provisional members by an electronic vote. The bylaws will be reviewed every 3 years, after a 6-month “open revision” period, and will only be ratified after a two-thirds majority membership vote. Amendments can be proposed to the bylaws by membership at any time.
- Section 2. Advisory Committee.
The Advisory Committee, herein referred to as the “AC,” is a temporary group of provisional arts Union members responsible for discussing, editing, and ultimately ratifying the Bylaws. The AC dissolves when the bylaws are ratified on January 19, 2021. 5