I was on the organizing committee for a one-day conference called Will Work For Exposure: Cultural Work in Precarious Times, held at Ryerson University on October 19, sponsored by the Centre for Labour Management Relations. This is how we described the conference:
Canada’s cultural sector is booming, yet employment in these industries is increasingly precarious. From free work to unpaid internships, low wages to legislative loopholes, cultural workers are at the mercy of industries that too often take advantage of our dreams and aspirations. Will Work For Exposure: Cultural Work in Precarious Times is a one-day conference that brings together people who work, or are looking for work, in the cultural industries (freelance journalists, writers, actors, artists, video game designers, etc.) with unions, community organizers, lawyers and researchers to share information and strategies for navigating precarious employment and improving working conditions. We will hear firsthand from cultural workers about their experiences and about creative initiatives that aim to improve working conditions and access to paid work. Join us to further discuss the challenges facing growing numbers of cultural workers who shouldn’t have to accept precariousness to follow their passion.
Andrew Cash, MP for Davenport, and Andrew Ross, Professor of Social and Cultural Analysis at New York University, delivered keynotes, and the conference speakers discussed the range of issues and institutions that shape the work of producing culture: free labour, low wages, precarity, enjoyment, policies, copyright, unions, internships, and plenty more. It was an excellent start to a much-needed conversation.
In particular, the issue of unpaid internships in the cultural sector resonated with conference attendees, and two interesting articles were written on the topic:
“Experience or Exploitation: Conference Ramps up Debate on Unpaid Internships,” by Anqi Shen at Story Board, and “Internships and the Intersection of Class Struggle and Opportunity,” by Belinda Alzner at J-Source.
I hope these are the first of many.