By Art Museum Workers
Running from 9th of February to 3rd March at ‘Seventh Gallery’ in Richmond, Melbourne, Arty-Farty Cities was an art exhibition held with the purpose of promoting workplace organisation and union activity within the arts industry. Created through the collaborative efforts of union members working across the arts industry, the exhibited works were produced specifically for Arty-Farty Cities using physical materials (such as offcuts from renowned art galleries) and industry knowledge derived from our own workplaces.
The exhibition was well attended during its opening night, with various unionists, artists and workers in attendance. The Victorian Trades Hall and the Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance (MEAA) were greatly supportive of the exhibition, as they assisted with advertising and supplied various materials. A BBQ was also held by the artists on the final afternoon of the exhibition in order to encourage meeting and discussion among like-minded working people within the arts.
In 2022, the ABS reported that just 9.5% of people employed within arts and recreation services were union members. More positively, it was also found that the ‘Arts and Recreation Services’ was the only industry in Australia that actually increased its union membership percentage between 2016 and 2022. These numbers therefore show the need for greater union membership within the arts while also indicating a relatively promising attitude towards unionism within the industry.
Aside from the membership numbers, it’s the working people’s experience within galleries, museums and cultural institutions that is the most truthful source of current industrial conditions. As it stands, working within the industry involves adapting to a culture of volunteerism, irregular casual employment and dead-end jobs. This is symptomatic of the creative industry’s unsustainable structure that serves the interests of elite philanthropists, private industry and the Australian government’s commitment to free-markets. Australia’s creative industry itself flourished from the defeat of unions during the 1980s, and now workers and the general public are left with an industry and culture that celebrates the elite ideals of individualism.
Arty-Farty Cities contributes to the efforts of arts workers to understand and be inspired about their own position within the Art industry. While artists, employees and volunteers work at the behest of an industry that serves oligarchic funding bodies, Arty-Farty Cities ultimately seeks to build solidarity between those who turn on the lights, sell tickets, greet patrons and install exhibitions.