There’s so much talk nowadays about valuing the work an artist does. Photographers are posting about how expensive their careers and equipment are. Musicians are posting about how you’re not buying a song, you’re buying the result of sweat, tears, endless studio hours and pieces of their hearts. Designers, about how the logo they created wasn’t simply “a font”. And dancers about how “exposure” really isn’t a reason for them to perform. It’s a familiar rant to any one of us who does something creative for a living.
I haven’t had it as hard as many others but I still feel like I have found myself in unfair and uncomfortable situations more than I should have. I have been given accommodation at shady hostels in pretty unsafe cities, in rooms where the locks don’t even work. I have performed for free, in tiny spaces, on my own expense, in cities all over the country. I have performed at “corporate events” taking place at the biggest, fanciest, and most expensive hotels in Bangalore, where there were people neither to receive us, nor take care of us, nor see us off. On one occasion, 4 other dancers and I shared space with broken painting frames, construction debris, cardboard boxes, old furniture and a floor covered with sawdust, before performing under the most appalling circumstances. I have performed at events where I was told there was no budget to fund travel or artist fee, but where I was asked to pose in front of banners carrying sponsor’s logos after my performance. There have been one or two occasions when I have come off stage feeling like I disrespected a 2000 year old tradition, and 22 years of my own life, unable to meet other artists’ eyes.
In other words, I have been in situations where neither my work, my safety, or my dignity have been respected.
But this isn’t about that. This is about the responsibility we have as artists towards changing the way our art forms are treated. I keep thinking, isn’t there a point at which this should stop? Does it have something to do with how “important” I am? Or is it simply about the precedent I set before I accept a performance?
Because here’s who I’m mad at. I’m mad at other artists. At artists who put up with this nonsense. In my limited experience as a professional dancer, I have found that people take you as seriously as you take yourself. I have had perfectly polite and cordial conversations with event organisers, where I have told them clearly what I will and will not do. Not ONCE have my requests been declined. I’ve gone on to have very positive experiences with the people I choose to work for. Maybe that means that I work less than others, but that’s a choice I have made, and I’m okay with that. When I bring artists in to work with me on collaborations and productions, I make sure they are taken care of to the best of my ability. If I can do it with my limited experience (and I know other artists my age who also do it), there is no reason everyone else can’t.
If we look around at our industry and dislike the way it is…it’s because we enable it to be this way. We allow people to keep it this way, by putting up with poor treatment. It is OUR fault, make no mistake about it.
This is NOT about money. Let me make that clear. I understand how hard it is to raise money to fund the arts. It’s about respect. Please let’s be clear about the difference. I’ve done shows where I’ve been paid an incredible amount and have still come home feeling like crap. I’ve also done shows for free where I was treated with so much love that I would do it over and over and over that way.
Take yourself seriously as an artist. You are NOT arrogant, for wanting your art form, your years of training and your livelihood to be respected. Your work has value just like everyone else’s.
It’s all well and good to say “I love my art form, I don’t need anything else.”… As long are you’re the one saying it. That is a call YOU make. No one else should be allowed to say it for you.