Monthly Archives: May 2014

Open up the gates

Manchester’s creative economy – where to next?

Based on his contribution at last week’s “Manchester’ creative economy – where to next?” urban forum at Twenty Twenty Two, David Gledhill, professional artist and co-administrator of Rogue Artists Studios, the largest studios in the North of England, writes …

Manchester has a particularly vibrant, resourceful and innovative visual arts community. We have great art schools, affordable group studios and plenty of artist-led initiatives and alternative spaces to exhibit in. Artists may be self-employed, working in the service sector or teaching to supplement their activities. Many of them may be exhibiting at a national or even international level and yet Manchester audiences rarely get the chance to enjoy their work and to benefit from the artistic status enjoyed by cities such as Liverpool, Glasgow or Leeds. Manchester isn’t mentioned in the Arts Council plan for 2011-15 which cites the BALTIC in Gateshead, MIMA in Middlesborough, the Hepworth Wakefield, Yorkshire Sculpture Park and the Liverpool Biennial as evidence of the strength of the visual arts in the North. (http://www.artscouncil.org.uk/publication_archive/arts-council-plan-2011-15)

If this doesn’t ring any alarm bells, the almost complete absence of any initiatives that may benefit, promote or support artists in the region may do. Manchester has no visual arts biennial, no art prize (like Liverpool), no annual open submission competition (like the London Open at the Whitechapel) no purchase schemes, and no artist residency programmes at its biggest institutions. We’ve never been in the running for European Capital of Culture. In fact you’re more likely to see a Manchester artist working as a gallery attendant than exhibiting in the city. If we want artists to live and work in the region, rather than moving south in search of opportunity, our major galleries must join hands with the artist-led sector to nurture a fully integrated visual arts ecology.

Artists contribute far more to a region’s tourism, academic, service and construction sectors than they ever absorb through direct public subsidy. They revitalize neglected zones of the urban environment and lend cultural prestige to a city’s portfolio of attractions. The Arts Council’s attempts to support excellence and diversity, including aesthetic diversity, are foundering on their agenda of driving public-funded institutions towards the open arms of the private sector in the attempt to broaden income steams. The commercial art world in particular, is founded on exclusivity, with self-appointed ‘gatekeepers’ promoting their own vested interests and excluding the vast majority of practitioners. Imagine turning up at hospital to be told that you’re not welcome because you haven’t been to dinner with the administrator.

An independent report (http://www.theroccreport.co.uk) concluded that there’s an urgent need for investment in arts production outside London. Nevertheless it failed to critique the rampant croneyism that is infesting the museum sector and leading to homogenization and stagnation in the visual arts. In his book ‘Dark Matter’ (2011) Gregory Sholette talks about the ‘structural invisibility’ of most artists. The passion and dedication of Manchester’s artists and the legendary DIY spirit of our great city can only carry us so far. Artists deserve the widest possible audiences and a platform alongside the international talent that visits the city. Manchester deserves to experience the greatest art in the world together with the greatest art from right here. The arts community must come together and make it happen!

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Wage theft!

Nik Theodore from the Department of Urban Planning and Policy of the University of Illinois at Chicago writes about the problem of wage theft in the United States.

Ana worked for five years for a cleaning company in Chicago, where she was paid $8 an hour, even for overtime hours. “One time I worked for 22 hours in a row and was paid only $120, Ana explained. “My boss told me that was all he could give me.” She is owed about $1,800 from bounced checks, plus wages she should have received if her employer had abided by overtime laws. She was fired from her cleaning job after she developed carpal tunnel syndrome. Ana says the debilitating injury was caused by the strenuous work she had been doing: “I got carpal tunnel in my hands from the repetitive motion. I went to Cook County Hospital and I covered my medical expenses. But I couldn’t afford to go to therapy. I fell behind on my school payments, and now I even owe the [Internal Revenue Service] because my employer was not deducting money from my check.”

Ana is not alone in experiencing these types of workplace violations. Increasingly, it is clear that there has been a breakdown in the enforcement of core employment and labor laws in Chicago and other major US cities. Employers must pay workers at least the minimum wage, and time and a half for overtime. They must follow regulations to protect workers’ health and safety, and carry workers’ compensation insurance to cover on-the-job injuries. They may not discriminate against workers on the basis of age, race, religion, national origin, gender, sexual orientation or disability. And they must respect workers’ right to organize and bring complaints about working conditions. Yet there is growing evidence that employers are evading these bedrock labor standards.

A study of workplace violations in Chicago, Los Angeles and New York City (http://www.unprotectedworkers.org/index.php/broken_laws/index) found evidence of widespread violations among workers employed in low-wage industries. In the Chicago area, the nonpayment and underpayment of wages take a heavy monetary toll on workers and their families (http://www.ndlon.org/en/resources/item/412-unregulated-work). For those workers who experienced a pay‐based violation in the previous week, the average amount of lost wages was $50, out of average weekly earnings of $322. This amounts to wage theft of 16 percent. Assuming a full‐year work schedule, it is estimated that these workers lost an average of $2,595 annually due to workplace violations, out of total annual earnings of just $16,753.

Furthermore, it is estimated that in a given week, approximately 146,300 workers in Chicago and suburban Cook County experience at least one pay‐based violation. Extrapolating from this figure, front‐line workers in low‐wage industries lose more than $7.3 million per week as a result of employment and labor law violations.

Wage theft not only depresses the already meager earnings of low‐wage workers, it also adversely impacts their communities and local economies. Low‐income families spend the large majority of their earnings on basic necessities, such as food, clothing and housing. Their expenditures circulate through local economies, supporting businesses and jobs. Wage theft robs local communities of a significant portion of this spending, and it ultimately limits economic growth.

Kim Bobo has correctly referred to wage theft as the “crime wave no one talks about.” It is high time that policymakers confront labor standards violations and their detrimental impacts on families and local communities. The policy agenda must include updating employment laws so that they apply to 21st Century workplaces and employment arrangements, redoubling enforcement efforts to strengthen the effectiveness of laws that are on the books, and ultimately devising strategies to hold employers responsible for the workplace conditions under their control.