Barriers To Equity Admission Are Suddenly Dropped

Big news today from Actors’ Equity Association  the union which represents stage actors and stage managers. The union basically immediately opened membership to anyone who has ever worked professionally as an actor or stage manager on production and ever will, along with members of associated sister unions like SAG-AFTRA, AGMA and AGVA. Anyone who currently in the member candidate program working toward their union card can immediately become a member with any fees already paid to the union counting toward their initiation dues.

It should be noted that the definition of working professionally seems to being paid any amount as long as you can provide a pay stub. The previous process was based on a certain number of hours worked on a production under a union contract.

The union says they are doing this as a step toward diversity and inclusion due to the high degree of self-selection that has existed in the hiring process:

But Equity theatres, like all entertainment industry employers, are disproportionately run by white people, and their programming and hiring decisions show that they often hold biases in favor of people from similar demographics. In fact, recent hiring studies demonstrate that Equity contracts are disproportionately offered to white people, and the majority of new members join via a contract.  Because our membership rules until now have left access to membership in employers’ hands, they have implicitly created a disproportionately high barrier to access for actors and stage managers of marginalized identities. We have inadvertently contributed to the systemic exclusion of people of color and people of other marginalized identities from the benefits of union membership.

In a Backstage article, Diep Tran quotes Equity President Kate Shindle as saying this is not a cash grab after the Covid shutdown:

But she is adamant that Open Access is not a “cash grab” to get more money into the union; Equity was affected in the last year when its members were unable to work because of COVID-19 and thus, pay into their union.

“I am telling you the God’s honest truth when I say that no part of this has felt like any kind of cash grab,” she says.

Shindle also admits that with this change, it may mean that auditions become “more crowded,” but she believes that overall, more members are a good thing: “We’re eager to look at the ways in which structural and systemic racism has permeated our industry and say, Okay, these are things we can just fix without anyone’s permission. We don’t have to have an industry summit in order to say it should be easier to join Equity if you want to join Equity.”

One of my colleague’s first reaction was to wonder if the influx of membership would help the union’s issues with health coverage. Back in April, actors were marching in protest against the union’s change in the number of weeks members had to work in order to receive health coverage, in addition to calling attention to racism, sexism, and unsafe work environments.

It will be interesting to see how this move plays out over the next few years. One of the biggest challenges will likely be broadening the appeal of union membership geographically. While it sounds like anyone who performed for a small stipend could become a member of Actors’ Equity, the restrictions on working on non-union shows may limit people’s opportunities to participate in local or regional productions.

For decades now the fact that acting opportunities were oriented in a few cities, particularly New York City, has been identified as a significant problem. (Call out to Scott Walters who often wrote on this subject.)  The joke about needing to move to NYC from Milwaukee in order to audition for a part in Milwaukee wasn’t far from the truth.

Equity is probably going to have to create new sets of rules that allow people to perform in myriad more circumstances than they currently are. The union was formed over 100 years ago to protect actors from exploitative situations and there are still many areas in which advocacy of a few broad basic work rules like the recent trend away from grueling rehearsal schedules can create new standards of practice.

 

There Will Be More Dancing In The Streets

I saw an article on CityLab about some pretty successful Open Streets efforts that rose up during Covid.  If you aren’t familiar with the concept, Open Streets is a national effort to temporarily close streets down to traffic to allow for community use of the space.

Where I live, a local organization works to shut streets down a couple times a year in different neighborhoods around the city. Part of the local effort has been to perform different projects which help make the streets safer by making drivers slow down and become more aware of pedestrians.

I was surprised to read in the CityLab piece that one group successfully managed to shut down a 30 block span of a street in NYC for 12 hours every. single. day.  While technically that is a temporary shut down of the street, it is increasingly becoming a permanent feature.

Programming was paramount. Practically each day, there is something going on in the street. Salsa and the Colombian coin toss game of sapo on Tuesdays. Family bike rides on Friday. The avenue even has its own newsletter. “If you don’t activate the street, people won’t feel comfortable using it,” said Burke.

Alejandra Lopez, a local resident, had stopped by last week for a bike helmet, but they were all out. Instead, she found out about the English classes that are also held on the avenue, which brought her back today. The Open Street reminded Lopez of her hometown, Bogotá, and its famous weekly Ciclovía. “This is like the evolution of that,” she said, carrying a new helmet in one hand.

The daily effort is driven by 100 volunteers and is mostly funded by donations. Some of the people who teach the language and dance classes are paid a stipend, but most all the work is done by volunteers. The vision, however, is to turn it into a work training program.

The program could provide summer jobs for teens, or re-entry training for formerly incarcerated people, with transferable carpentry and landscaping skills. (Burke called for crossing guards to be hired from nearby communities.) To Maerowitz, the Open Street could be more than just a space to spread out: It could be a site where one’s community is strengthened.

“We can give neighbors ownership of the street through work,” she said.

The article talks about some of the issues and tensions that have emerged in different Open Streets projects around the country. There is always push back and anger from some drivers at having streets shutdown, but organizers have discovered some socio-economic forces at work as well. There has been criticism that Open Streets projects are often sited in wealthier neighborhoods, but some have observed that there is often resistance in poorer neighborhoods based in skepticism about broken promises of the past as well as lack of consultation and communication with residents.

Last year, the launch of Oakland’s Slow Streets program faced a barrage of criticism over lack of community input, with Black and low-income residents expressing far less enthusiasm for the traffic restrictions.

[…]

…in poorer areas, they hit resistance, highlighting disparities ingrained in traffic violence. If a neighbor in a marginalized community grumbles at a program meant to enhance safety, and the response is to scrap instead of fix, something else may be at play there.

“When you apply the layer of historical trauma that communities of color have experienced, it’s a reaction formation,” Logan said. “I’ve been so hurt from you that it’s easier to push you away than to collaborate and figure out a solution. The last time we talked about promises, you broke that.”

I Noticed You Checking Out Those Brush Strokes

CityLab had an article about an art museum in Bologna, Italy which is using eye tracking to learn how visitors interact with works on display. In the process, the museum has learned unexpected things about their visitors.

Let me just get this out of the way and say that my cynical mind immediately saw this technology becoming the basis to optimize attendance, sales, and ultimately what sort of art gets created based on what seems most popular.

This being said, the technology can also provide feedback and opportunity to better inform, engage and lower barriers for visitors. Or perhaps, as suggested in the last paragraph below, curators may find that visitors don’t value the same things they do.

Part of me would be curious to see if they put this technology up in some place like the Louvre, are there works no one suspected was getting attention as people made their way to and from the Mona Lisa. Does something catch people’s eye that makes them pause a moment? Is there a minor, but significant flow, to other galleries that no one had observed?

Some of the researchers’ findings have been unexpected. Examining observer data from the two sides of a 14th-century diptych by Vitale degli Equi, data showed that “attention was immediately attracted to the ‘busier’ representation of Saint Peter’s blessing, to the right,” said Bologna Musei President Roberto Grandi. He was surprised to find that many visitors simply skipped the diptych’s left half.

The data could lead to changes in lighting, staging and placement of artworks in relation to one another, Grandi said, with findings suggesting that museums and galleries might want to rethink how to make some paintings and sculptures more visible and accessible.

The life-sized statue of Apollo of Veii, dating back to 510-500 B.C., is a case in point, the researchers said. Though the statue is one of the crown jewels at Rome’s National Etruscan Museum, a separate test of ShareArt showed that relatively few visitors give it the attention experts feel it deserves. Placement near the end of the collection, possibly chosen in a “best-for-last” approach, may be leading patrons to skip the artifact altogether, ENEA’s Marghella said.

Did Covid Suddenly Make You More Aware of Sidewalk Space?

The Americans for the Arts blog had an interview with an arts group that was flexing their skills to solve problems in their community. They spoke with Yin Kong, one of the founders of Think Chinatown which started the initiative Assembly for Chinatown to provide outdoor dining for restaurants in New York City’s Chinatown.

While restaurants in other parts of the city were able to find ways to cope with Covid restrictions by setting up dining on sidewalks or in dedicated parking spaces on the street, Chinatown has narrower sidewalks and streets. Regulations frequently changed and violations earned a $1,000 fine. Outdoor dining really hadn’t been part of the business practice among Chinatown restaurants so between physical restrictions, legal hurdles, and custom there was little incentive for the financially ailing restaurants for that neighborhood to pursue outdoor dining options.

Think Chinatown collaborated with A+A+A Studio to write a guide on how to build affordable structures that met Department of Transportation guidelines. Artists worked with business owners to decorate the structures in colorful murals.

We removed the financial risk for these restaurants by covering the construction costs. We selected restaurants where we believed the impact could most be felt. For the most part, the project has helped bring attention to businesses and provide more space.

We are still connected with the restaurants who participate—we do not drop these and leave. We live in the neighborhood and are here to adjust. For some murals, it has been almost a year [since they were created], so we are repainting. We want them to continue to be colorful, delightful work.

The Assembly for Chinatown page mentions the project has helped 13 businesses at nine sites. In some cases, adjacent businesses got wrapped into the effort. In one case, a restaurant, cafe and florist had a structure constructed. In another, a restaurant and neighboring tea importer shared a space.

The interview is short, but it is clear that the perceptual, legal, and logistical hurdles they faced required a lot of time and effort to navigate before the first two pieces of wood were attached together. They provided access where it didn’t exist or seemed difficult to achieve and got people thinking of new possibilities for doing business in their neightborhood.

Send this to a friend