Monday, October 03, 2005

The true cost of art

Another photo from the current installation.

I was teaching a class "The Ecology of Chopsticks and other Disposables" with my friend Charity Maybury at the Crissy Field Center. The group was Crissy Field Center's I-YEL Program, high school youth who I believe will change the world. One of the things we discussed was the cost of organic food and how we experience it as so much more expensive than the other stuff. Because organic food is best grown and cared for in small farms, the costs are different. We are actually paying for the true cost of food - real food without chemicals, locally grown. Of course, there is a lot more to say about this.

Later in the day, when the class went to see the show at the gallery, I was asked how much money this project was and why it cost so much since the chopsticks were free. I think I was a bit unprepared for the question and wasn't as articulate as I would have liked to have been. You see, I am totally fried. I have raised about $30,000 for a project that was budgeted for $35,000. This means that all the project expenses including equipment, printing, graphics, press, washing supplies, photo documentation, studio supplies, travel expenses, research materials, art transportation, and everything else including my salary for a year had to come out of this. I worked about 250 hours just on preparing chopsticks from the dirty bins to their clean useable state. I do not get heathcare, social security, vacation or sick leave. When you calculate all the time - grantwriting, talks, classes, press, catalog, documentation, studio work, washing, phone calls, meetings, networking, supply runs, installation, working with contractors, and the artmaking, etc...I make less than minimum wage. It actually ends up being about $5.45 an hour.

And unfortunately, I will be flat broke at the end of the month. I can get bitchy about it, but I'm not asking for pity. I am really glad and grateful that I have had the opportunity to do the project. This has been an amazing experience, but I'm just explaining that our budget did not reflect the true cost of art and artists, like me, are constantly in a economically vulnerable position. Art costs a lot more.

I am thinking about sustainability, too. If there is no art, what will happen to our country, our culture?