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.

Headlines Writing Checks That The Body Text Ain’t Really Cashing

Yesterday, economist Tyler Cowen addressed one of the dichotomies being recognized in the arts sector – the conflict between values of equity, fairness, diversity, etc., espoused in the arts world and the transactional nature of arts patronage. Discussions of how the arts are supported and funded are becoming an increasingly prevalent topic of conversation.

Cowen, who is most definitely an avowed supporter, consumer and advocate of the arts takes a bit of an academic analytical approach to the “wokeness” embodied in The Art Newspaper articles on visual art.

To put it bluntly, the art world is torn. In terms of demographics, the art world should lean fairly hard left, at least in the Anglo countries. It is highly educated, cosmopolitan, wealthy, and “aware” of the world. And many of the individuals operating in the art world do lean fairly strongly to the left. Yet the art world itself is based on principles fairly different from Woke and often directly opposed to Woke.

First and foremost, the art world is based on ownership of property. Most (by no means all) of those properties were created by dead white males, or perhaps by living white males.

Art markets typically are ruled by Power Laws and massive inequality, with most works going to zero value and a small percentage of the creators hitting it big…. Indeed, you earn status by showing how discriminating your eye is, which means by dumping on the works that aren’t going anywhere.

Textiles, which are arguably the “most female” genre in terms of their creators, are worth systematically much less in the marketplace…(…The same is true for some kinds of pottery as well….)

Some of the issues he addresses I was aware of but hadn’t thought of in the terms or context he expresses.

Part of the point of his post was illustrate there is a breadth of intellectual discourse about art & culture that doesn’t immediately gravitate toward the extremes of woke or anti-wokeness. Of The Art Newspaper he says, “It tries to incorporate Woke rhetoric into an essentially non-Woke and anti-Woke set of customs and incentives and property rights.”

You will have to read his analysis of how they achieve that balance in various articles he cites. Basically, he says the body of the articles turn out to be less controversial than the headlines suggest.

Some of the commenters to the post suggest that Cowen uses “woke” so frequently in the post because he is intentionally trying to beat all meaning and emotional associations out of the term.

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