Are you a cultural entrepreneur, an artist, or both?

paintpeelingabstract“Too often creative people do not recognize that by allowing themselves to be exploited they are contributing to the exploitation of their fellow artists and writers, as well as aspiring artists and writers, and by allowing exploitation of themselves, they are inadvertently helping to shape an economy of exploitation on a societal scale.” – Kate Oakley, PhD.

I heard this the other day at a talk at SFU given by Kate Oakley, a professor from Leeds, who participated in SFU’s Dream Colloquiam on Entrepreneurship.  

When she made the above statement, I thought it was so true for so many, except for, perhaps, the most accomplished.

And then I wondered. Does Douglas Coupland ever feel exploited, monetarily that is? I know you’re probably thinking, of course not, he’s wildly successful. But, I really wonder if people ever nickel and dime him asking if he could just give them the art for less? If the exhibit could be paid for at that price but could they have it for a few extra months?

Are the people at the very top of the creative pool whose work is coveted commercially, the only ones who should expect to be paid adequately while the majority should expect to scramble for whatever meagre dollars they can be paid even if others are making money because of their content?  Think about whether that’s true for any other industry.

Did you know that the so called Creative Class is more male, white, and more middle class than in any other industry and it’s getting worse according to Oakley. This is certainly true for newspapers (which may explain their continuing demise).

What are the differences between artists and entrepreneurs?  Oakley said one difference is in how they approach work. Artists typically do not like to do the same thing twice. Entrepreneurs won’t walk away from something if it’s commercially successful even if they have to make a million widgets.

Why is it that it’s okay for some to make a decent living from your contribution to their newspaper, their magazine, their art gallery, their publishing company and yet so many writers and artists are mere weeks away from introducing Friskies Cat Food into their daily diet?

Those magazines, newspapers, art galleries depend on creative content to make the decent living they have become accustomed to, and yet, somehow, historically, they refuse to adequately pay for it from the people who make it possible.

Our society loves creative work in general it would seem. It enriches our lives. Do we want to pay for it? Yet we pay millions for hockey.

Creativity for creativity sake. Take the commercial out of it. Is that the answer? Is the answer to change expectations. Is the answer to refuse to be exploited, refuse to participate in being paid less than?

  • When I learn that a community newspaper in the Yukon owned by Black Press is essentially paying only slightly better than the starting wage for reporters 20 years ago, it makes me shake my head.
  • When I learn that a magazine in Victoria is paying less now for  freelance than just a few years ago when the rates were already crappy, it makes me angry.
  • When I learn that a national real estate magazine is paying $30 cents a word which would be $300 for 1,000 words, I have a problem with that.  Shouldn’t I?
  • I want to know whether AdBusters is actually paying writers when they put out a call for submissions to one of their themed issues or does AdBusters need to be busted for their hypocrisy in how they might be treating some of the people who provide their content.

It makes me think about Mona Fertig’s project on Unheralded Artist of BC. (Video)

Were the Beatles both cultural entrepreneurs and artists? What about Mick Jagger?

How have you reconciled your desire to participate in creative work and your need to to be able to support yourself and balance the two?

A few links about Creative Entrepreneurship, which, I know is different from art, or is it?

SFU Community Garden Replaces Less than Golden Memories

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I drove up to Simon  Fraser University on top of the mountain this past week to see the garden plot that my friend Gwen and a friend share. They both work at SFU. As I drove up the hill, I thought back to all those times when I was just 18 years old and would always take that first long wide corner too fast on the last stretch of the long journey from my parent’s house in Langley. Some things don’t change. I did that again, pushing 80 mph, for old time sake. Nary a cop in sight.

When we met up in front of where the old pub and coffee shop used to be, and a much bigger one now is, the first thing I said was,  “You know, every time I come up here, [which is almost never], all these memories come flooding back and they aren’t particularly good memories. My memories are of being isolated and out of place and alone. Of wondering what I was doing there. Of grey and concrete and more grey and more grey and socked in clouds and feeling depressed. Don’t get me wrong, I’m now glad to have a degree from SFU. But, had I been less shy, more confident and sure of myself, I wouldn’t have gone to university at all. I would have done what I should have done. I would have bought a knapsack and travelled.

I never could figure out how so many other students managed to pay tuition and travel all summer which meant they didn’t work. I think it must have been called the Canadian National Bank of Parents. Strangely enough, given my recent history where formal working environments have not figured prominently,  I worked every summer and paid tuition and my money ran out by about March every year when the Canadian National Bank of Parents would have to kick in the difference. But I digress.

I’m sure my reaction to driving back up the hill would not be something SFU would be happy to hear but it wasn’t their fault. It was mine. It just felt overwhelming. At least in the first year or two. SFU is a commuter campus. And, I didn’t know how to get involved even though it was all around me. Silly me.

I asked Gwen if she had good memories of Waterloo. Her answer was short. “No. Not really.” And, we laughed thinking about how the Alumni Associations of both places would be very unhappy to hear that.

As we walked over to the community garden plots all those bad thoughts quickly dissipated. And, it reminded me once again how nature is the world’s best relaxation therapy.cabbageforweb

I love beautiful little cabbages because they remind me of this favourite book I had as a kid called Home for a Bunny where the bunny always hid inside the cabbage leaves. I can never see a cabbage without wondering if a tiny magical imaginery bunny might be hiding in them.

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Here’s Gwen watering the plot which is thirsty thirsty because of the dry weather. When Gwen first started gardening all she wanted to do was grow the ingredients for Borscht. Strange but true. She’s not even a Mennonite.

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 I loved the way these bean vines were practically painting themselves across the late afternoon sky.

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This little flower is a dainty jewel fit for a princess. Do you know what they are?

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Someone has decided to make their own beer. At least it looks that way. Hops are wonderful and delicate and papery crinkly.

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As I was wandering around with my camera, I didn’t notice that I was disturbing a hungry visitor who couldn’t get enough of someone’s plot until its hairy brown back scared me through the viewfinder of my camera.

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These little baby garlic look as if they’re out on a hot air balloon excursion.

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This is an asparagus plant that has gone to seed. I just liked the way the golden beads are looking ripe for a necklace.

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It’s a jungle up there. And, given all the bounty, it’s strange that Gwen says she’s almost never seen anyone else there. Maybe little garden gnomes and fairies are watering at four o’ clock in the morning.

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At the end of the watering session,delicious green beans to cook, just right and whatever you do, don’t overcook them. A little salt. A little pepper. A little butter and some of that baby garlic and you’re good to feed yourself from the greens of your labour.