Cultural Policies meet Pandemic Follies: The CERB and independent artists
A discussion with Jessa Agilo, Maegen Black, Kelly Hill, and Konstantin Kilibarda.
Moderated by Michael Maranda
May 20, 2020.
The effect of the pandemic on artists has been immense. There is, of course, the loss of exhibitions, sales, and other opportunities of earnings from their artwork, but it is important to remember for most artists, these revenue streams are all returned to their practice as expenses. Living expenses are earned from day-jobs and side-gigs, which means that even if an artists’ studio-based income has not been reduced, their ability to pay the rent and put food on the table may have disappeared. The assumptions inherent in state programs devised to address the fiscal effects of the pandemic speak to how government policy envisions artists, and how far that vision strays from the reality of the gig economy.
Governmental responses to the situation of the gig-based economy has been on ongoing concern. In particular, the rollout of the Canadian Emergency Response Benefit (the CERB) has been a work-in-progress from the beginning. Initially, the language around the program seemed directed to members of the gig economy, in particular to artists and other cultural workers, but in the endits implementation evinced a dire misunderstanding of how the gig economy functions. With the assumption that earnings would cease completely for those affected by the economic shutdown, the CERB regulations considered gig workers as serial employees of individual employers rather than as freelancers with multiple simultaneous gigs. The loss of all but one of these gigs would have prohibited an artist from qualifying for the CERB in total, despite having lost almost all of their revenue. To make matters worse, if the gig they retained was part of their practice which had expenses tied to it (etsy sales; public exhibition fees; et cetera), they could have been disqualified from receiving the CERB for a project that realised a net loss.
The CERB regulations have been refined several times, most recently and most significantly on April 23, 2020. The policy has become better and better in its implementation, at least from the standpoint of artists and other precarious cultural workers. While we acknowledge the speed at which the CERB as a programme was developed, and the willingness to adjust as gaps were identified, there are still gaps in the current formulation, and still some unanswered questions.
Michael Maranda (assistant curator at the AGYU and lead researcher of the Waging Culture project), Jessa Agilo (founder of ArtsPond, Groundstory, and the I Lost My Gig project), Maegen Black (Director of the Canadian Crafts Federation), Kelly Hill (President of Hill Strategies Research), and Konstantin Kilibarda (scholar and activist) discuss the issues raised by the CERB and the government response to the pandemic for professional artists. Together, our speakers cover a range of artistic practices and have been closely following the roll-out of governmental initiatives addressing the current pandemic.
Jessa Agilo is an integrated arts producer with a three-decade career in Canadian arts and culture. She is founder of ArtsPond, a non-profit boosting social, spatial, economic, digital, and equity justice in Canadian arts and culture, including Groundstory, DigitalASO, Artse United, and I Lost My Gig Canada. Her past roles include Ontario Culture Days, Banff Centre, Workman Arts, Queer Arts Festival, Dreamwalker Dance, and many others. Jessa was recognized with the Humberto Santos Award in Business and Administration in 2006. In 2019, she was selected as a member of the Toronto Arts Council’s Leaders Lab.
With over 15 years experience in contemporary fine craft, Maegen Black has built a career from her passion. As the Director of the Canadian Crafts Federation, she works directly with professional craft organizations across the country to tackle collaborative projects, increase networking in the field, and advocate for craft and culture at the provincial, territorial and federal level. A graduate of the Ontario College of Art and Design University’s Material Art and Design program, she holds a Bachelor of Design in jewellery and metalsmithing, and has undertaken continuing education courses and workshops both in studio practice and not-for-profit professional development to continue advancing her skills.
Kelly Hill is President of Hill Strategies Research, a Canadian company that combines rigorous and reliable research on the arts and culture with clear and effective communications. Since founding Hill Strategies in 2002, Kelly has prepared over 400 research reports and presentations on the arts and culture, giving him a unique perspective on the Canadian arts sector and arts-related statistics. HillStrategies.com is a widely used and respected resource on important areas of arts research, including the situation of artists.
Konstantin Kilibarda is a PhD candidate at York University, and has taught at the School of Labour Studies at McMaster University since 2014. He specializes in the political economy of global labour market restructuring under neoliberalism and its intersections with histories of colonialism and settler-colonialism. Konstantin is a committed popular educator and independent researcher, building on over two decades of community and social justice organizing experience with anti-poverty, labour, migrant justice, international solidarity, prison abolition, and decolonial struggles.
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