Loving Work, Fearing Leisure

There is often conversation about how people employed in arts and cultural pursuits overwork themselves (or are overworked) and are seeking to throttle things back to achieve a work-life balance.

However, a recent FastCompany article suggests that people across the board are overworking themselves. In describing the situation, they draw parallels to the type of longing for meaning associated with spiritual or religious pursuits.

“We have spiritual lives, we have physical lives, we like to have intellectual stimuli in our lives, we have our communities and our families and friends; humans are complex, and to have a really healthy balance, it requires all of those components,” says Rachel Bitte, Jobvite’s chief people officer. “Expecting all of that to come from your work could be an unrealistic expectation.”

The authors mention that at one time it was assumed that the more affluent people became, the more leisure time they would pursue. In the 1980s, that was generally the case. Yet in the last 30 years, the opposite has happened and work is valued over free time to the point where we actually fear having work taken away by automation.

Thompson adds that this concept of pursuing passion through work can be beneficial to many–and he includes himself among them–but a majority aren’t able to pursue meaningful work, and the expectations placed on work are often unrealistic.

“We expect to realize our full humanity in work, within the job, rather than other parts of life. That is new,” says Benjamin Hunnicutt,..

Hunnicutt adds that the fear of automation replacing human labor would have been unimaginable to the philosophers and thinkers who questioned the meaning of work throughout history. “Before, the promise of technology was labor-saving devices,” he says. “Now it frightens us. We can’t imagine an alternative to work.”

As I read this, it occurred to me that there was another nuanced dimension to the belief that artists don’t work because they are doing what they enjoy.

In the context of few people finding fulfillment in their work and the concept that people fear “forced leisure,” the idea that artists find fulfillment in something that appears to be a leisurely pursuit probably frightens people on a subconscious level.

At one time people welcomed the advancements of automation on an assumption that robots would create things of value for the benefit of general society. But when work itself is valued to the point where survival is only available in exchange for work, then robots are perceived to be stealing work from you and transferring the benefit to a few.

Instead of pursuing leisure, you have it involuntarily thrust upon you and want to be rid of it so you can support yourself again.

When artists appear to voluntarily be doing what many would long to do if they could have leisure without fear, AND ask to be paid, there is a suspicion that something is amiss. The only way this situation could exist is if there were some secret cheat those artists are keeping to themselves, right?

Yes, it takes many fewer words to encapsulate this long-winded discussion as “you are doing something fulfilling and fun, you shouldn’t be paid for it…”

But if you think about it, you would realize that phrase wouldn’t be thrown in your face so often if the benefits of automated labor were more widely welcomed and shared, removing 40++++ hours work as a critical element of survival.

People may think that those in the arts are following their bliss while they live in fear of their livelihoods, but honestly I get a little anxious about our livelihoods when I read articles evaluating the ability of artificial intelligence to create viable prose, music and visual arts compositions.

That shift in attitude didn’t happen so very long ago. Perhaps an opportunity exists to reverse that trend over the next 30 years.

That Great Experience Two Years Ago? Seems Just Like Yesterday

A confluence of events and information made me realize that it might be time to revisit the subject of one of my favorite posts.

Last week I was talking to one of my staff about who to include in our season announcement mailing list. I told her we should reach back at least 2-3 years and then cited the fact that people maintain an emotional investment with an arts organization for 2-4 years after a visit.

When I mentioned this, I was thinking about a talk given by Andrew McIntyre  back in 2011 that I wrote about.  He talked about a number of people in focus group conversations that gushed about the great experience they had at a show last year….except that it was 2+ years ago. In their minds, they were still connected with the organization and considered themselves frequent attendees and supporters.

Thanks to Arts Midwest for maintaining the video link, you can watch it. Still very much relevant today and caused me to re-evaluate the concept of butts in the seats to be brains in the seats.

When I was catching up on reading my backlog of blog posts by others this weekend, I saw that Colleen Dilenschneider recently covered the same topics in two recent posts.

In the first, she mentions this same idea about people re-engaging on a roughly two year cycle (her emphasis):

We at IMPACTS often encounter a myth among cultural executives: That audience retention means that people come back every year… and if they’re not coming annually, then you aren’t retaining them as visitors.

As it turns out, this is a high bar – and one that does not line up with actual visitor behavior.

Museums have members and performing arts organizations have subscribers who may visit specific organizations more than once per year. In reality, most people who visit cultural organizations do not visit another organization of that type in two or more years.

She goes on to talk about how there is a disconnect between thinking about attendance in annual terms and actual human behavior. This can be an important consideration in regard to efforts to increase inclusion and diversity. Measuring success on an annual basis may cause you to misinterpret flat attendance as failure. The fact may be that you have doubled the number of people who feel invested in the organization over a two year period– it is just that attendees from the first year may not have started to cycle back to the organization. Your efforts may not bear visible results for three or four years when people begin returning in larger numbers.

In her second post, she warns arts organizations not to assume that people who buy memberships but don’t use them are disengaged with their organization. For many of the most highly engaged people, purchasing a membership is viewed as one of the best ways to support their organization. They are motivated by their passion for the organization, not by the availability of membership benefits.

Not only are the infrequent visitors more likely to buy a more expensive membership than those who regularly attend, they are also more likely to renew.

One reason these members aren’t visiting may be because they don’t live near the organization. (We’ve found that the more admired a cultural organization is perceived to be by the public, the higher percentage of non-local members it has.) Like non-visiting members, non-local members buy more expensive memberships and are more likely to renew them!


People believe the single best way to support a cultural, visitor-serving organization’s mission is to become a member. (Yes, even more than becoming a donor.)

We also know that mission-based members – people whose primary motivation to become a member involves supporting the organization and its mission – are particularly valuable

As Dilenschnedier is wont to do, the second post has a video that wraps up the concepts of both entries pretty well so be sure to check it out.

From The Why Hasn’t This Been Standard Practice For Decades File

I recently wrote a piece for ArtsHacker about the emerging role of intimacy direction for productions on stage and screen.  When I first read about intimacy direction a few years ago, it was at a time when there were revelations about people exploiting their position or opportunities without the full consent of others.  The role of intimacy director seemed to be about ensuring a level of protection and security.

However, the more I have read about the role, the more I realized it is really addressing a long neglected part of the creative process. In every instance when performers are exerting themselves in close quarters with each other, whether it is dance or stage combat, movements are rehearsed and scrutinized in detail until it is right. Then someone is assigned to make sure everyone warms-up and rehearses those motions prior to every performance.

When it comes to intimate moments, performers are often told to go off and figure it out themselves or given vague direction. This lack of proper attention can result in a very awkward moment or an all too authentic moment, both of which jar the audience out of the established reality.

The customary practices surrounding dance and fight choreography may be tedious and boring, but they have a goal of providing audiences with a consistent quality experience while ensuring no one gets hurt in the process. In this context intimacy direction is about addressing a long standing lack of attention that has risked these objectives.

When you think about it, you can almost credit the problem as an extension the oft observed phenomenon where people are unfazed by scenes of massive death and destruction but recoil at hints of nudity or intimacy. Perhaps people have been more comfortable micromanaging fights, but prefer to distance themselves from intimacy.

While intimacy directors are increasingly becoming part of the production process, demand far outstrips supply so if you are interested in getting trained, check out Intimacy Directors International to find out more.

Also check out the ArtsHacker post for additional links, videos and examples.

Preparing For A Kiss Like An Eviscerating Slash – As Boringly As Possible

If You Were Really Passionate You Would Let Me Exploit You

Big tip of the hat to Sarah Carleton for tweeting about research that proves what we long suspected — people are more likely to exploit the labor of those viewed as pursuing their passions.

Even the biggest companies try to leverage “do it for exposure” or pressure people to accept goods as compensation rather than cash.

As KQED first reported in March, despite reaching a valuation of $1 trillion last year, tech giant Apple doesn’t pay the artists performing in its stores, compensating them with low-end merchandise such as AirPods and AppleTVs instead.

A recent study at Duke University provides some research to support all the anecdotes shared among the creative community.

Through eight different studies with over 2,400 participants, researchers discovered that people find it more acceptable for managers to ask passionate workers to work extra hours without additional pay, sacrifice sleep and family time, and take on demeaning tasks outside of their job descriptions


Furthermore, when reading about a graduate student subjected to verbal abuse and unreasonable deadlines, participants rated him as more passionate than someone who didn’t experience mistreatment.

“When people read about the exact same job but learned that the person enjoyed their work, they think it’s more fair, or less illegitimate, to have them do things that would objectively be considered approaching exploitation,” says Kay.

Pay attention to those last two paragraphs. When someone was subjected to abuse and unreasonable deadlines, they were perceived to be passionate. When people were told that someone enjoyed their work, exploitative treatment was perceived as “more fair, or less illegitimate.”

I think you could probably hold a day long conference just discussing the implications of those two sentences.

The fact that people think your suffering is okay if you are smiling is enough to diminish that smile, if not transform it to a pained grimace.

It is one thing to feel like the time and effort you invested in developing a skill is being undervalued or dismissed. Having some confirmation that they feel their exploitation is validated by your enjoyment of the work you do is pretty damn depressing.

So yes, apparently the whole world does want you to be miserable at work.

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