This text used to be hosted on the website of the artist-run space Third Space, who commissioned this text as part of their sixth anniversary celebrations. Their site is down atm, so we’re republishing it here.
This text has been informed by ideas shared in a workshop at Poimu, a feminist antiracist studio space, on 15 November, 2019. We wish to acknowledge and thank those who contributed to this two-hour discussion: Danai Anagnostou, Pii Anttonen, Linda Ciesielski, Minna Henriksson, Eeti Piiroinen, Johanna Rojola, and one anonymous person.
Within the field of arts and culture, it is very rare to work in isolation. Our practices are propelled by our relationships. Being clear, explicit, and organised about needs is essential when entering any collaboration. In the Finnish art field, written contracts are rare, and artists and freelancers often end up doing a lot of unpaid work to communicate and establish their working conditions. We believe that those initiating the collaboration—i.e. institutions, curators, choreographers—should take responsibility for creating clear and understandable working conditions.
From our workshop, we gathered together these prompts in the hope that the scope and desires of the collaboration can be clearly articulated from the outset. Not all questions apply to every situation, however after both parties have answered the relevant questions, it is likely easier for an agreement to be drafted (then debated, and finalised through signing—it may also include a commitment to revisit key points like the fee and timeline throughout the project). The first step of any collaboration is agreeing upon a shared understanding. This list is long, contains a lot of important things, and undoubtedly many specific, individual needs, are still missing. We hope that this can function as a starting point for conversations about collaborations and contracts. We hope that artists can use this to think of their needs and wishes, and that institutions could read this and understand their responsibilities in changing the field for better by providing collaborators with clear and fair contracts.
In this way, we hope to foster healthier working cultures. We at FCH care about collectively creating conditions which would make people want to work together again in the future. We also want to create ways to support people’s refusal, if one’s needs are not able to be met. This could become apparent before the collaboration begins, or it might become clear during the working process that clearly articulated needs are not able to be met. Rather than feeling trapped, we instead suggest that dialogue and collective reflection be included in every project timeline.
Some of these questions and prompts are appropriate for longer term contract work, and might not be so useful for smaller gig work (like drawing a page of comics, writing 500 words, or giving a guest lecture). For a shorter version, in addition to the 1. Essentials, you might wish to approach a potential collaboration by responding to the following prompts:
My needs are…
I could negotiate about…
Things that are important to me, that I would like to share, include…
We also encourage you to consider (and discuss) how to document the encounters that arise from this process—can all verbal communication be recorded, who is taking notes (and how are they recorded)?
What could collaborators value?
The participants of our workshop valued the following, what else would you like to add to this list?
- working with people who care about how others are feeling
- being told to take breaks / someone acknowledging our limits
- diverse colleagues
- physical boundaries being respected
- time-boundaries being respected (not being asked to work on free days)
- scheduling free days
- having the option to stay home if needed
- having the option to not work in the office sometimes, meeting outdoors or somewhere else
- an environment with no harassment, yelling, aggressive behaviour
- having time to think and concentrate
- discussion and sharing
- seeing others’ exhibitions, performances etc, and learning from others in our collective working time
- environmental consciousness / awareness of waste
- being in situations where there are enough people to do the job / not being overburdened
- having the time to situate together before beginning work
- making sure the working environment is clean, warm and relaxed
- communicating before moving onto the next stage / asking if people are ready
- knowing others are being compensated fairly
- regular check ins if we don’t know each other
- having an agreement, payslips, and a job certificate
- being given access to space outside of home for “productivity”
- time for tea
For (precarious) artists and arts workers being approached to collaborate
Before beginning to work with you, I need to know…
Choose from the list your essential needs, and add more if needed…
What is your aim?
What is the job/task?
What equipment is needed, and who provides it?
What aspects of my work are meaningful to you, and why should we work together?
Who else is part of this?
How will my work be used?
What is the schedule?
What is the start date, and end date?
How long does it take to prepare? Is this included in the fee?
What is the fee? Is it the take-home fee, or will tax and employment costs be taken out from it?
What is the payment schedule? (for freelancers, we suggest requesting 25% payment upon signing the agreement, 50% when a key milestone has been reached, and 25% when the project has been delivered)
2: Making the details clear
Now we have the basics (and I’m feeling good about what’s proposed), let’s discuss…
Choose from the list and add more if needed.
Who is responsible for what?
Is there a hierarchy, do I report to someone (and who do they report to)?
How do we communicate (through which channels, and with what kind of advance notice)?
When do we communicate (what are our limitations—i.e. no work on weekends, no emails after 17, no msgs after 21—and what are our predicted response times)?
What is the budget? (we hope for total transparency in budgets, openly discussing who is being paid what, and including funds for materials, preparation, and copyright, if applicable)
How is this being funded, where does the money come from?
How do you intend to use my work? (suggest some limits on use—I won’t provide you with the copyright, but let’s discuss how, when, and for how long my work can be used)
If you wish to use my work in other ways in the future, how will you contact me for permission?
How do you approach putting limits on a collaborator’s artistic expression/censorship, are there instances where it has felt reasonable?
If there is conflict, what methods do you use to resolve it / how do you approach mediation?
At this stage, do you foresee particular difficulties or challenges arising in relation to the aims of the work?
If the scope of the work goes beyond our predictions, how will the timelines and fees be negotiated/re-evaluated?
How will this working process be documented (and how can I get copies?)
Am I insured / do I have access to healthcare when I’m working for you?
Is there something I need to share about medical conditions / allergies, and do I need to limit who knows and can share this information?
Can you confirm I will not be liable for any loss or damage resulting from my work (e.g. if someone hurts themself when encountering my artwork when it’s under your care)?
When I visit you, are there any emergency procedures I should be aware of?
How to terminate (or suspend) the collaboration if needed, e.g. accident, illness, pandemic, censorship, or a conflict that can’t be resolved?
3. For institutions, organisations, and those approaching (precarious) artists and arts workers
Before reaching out, it’s good to think about…
- Who else is involved, and what might they represent in terms of the diversity and inclusion of the project?
- Am I thinking of collaborators as representing certain identities? Do they know how I’m thinking about them? Have I asked them if they are comfortable claiming this identity position in the context of this project? If they are, am I open to checking in regularly to see if this position still feels comfortable?
- Safer space guidelines—do you have them/follow them, or do these need to be introduced to you?
- Are there gender neutral spaces / toilets in places the group needs to frequent?
- Is there time to agree on important language / terminology, and acknowledge terms that might be hurtful or problematic?
- Can you confirm the workplace enforces anti-discrimination laws?
3.2 Practicalities to get started
- Let’s discuss accessibility needs
- Let’s discuss boundaries and needs related to boundaries
- Who amongst us has knowledge about working with diversity, and who will do the education?
- Is this a diverse working group, and if not, (how) can this be changed?
- How would you like to work—in which locations; in which kinds of environments (quiet, consistent, familiar, not stressful, solitary, with others); with what tools (that I provide, that you provide)?
- (When) is it possible for children, dogs/other animals, others we care for, to join us in the working space?
- How do we begin our meetings? Can we agree to make introductions (names, pronouns, a quick introductory sentence) whenever new people join us?
- If people misgender our collaborators, can we step in, correct them, accept their apology, and move on?
- Can we acknowledge the need for breaks, and decide who is responsible for making sure they are taken?
- Who will plan our time together? In the agenda, include introductions, recap, and checking in, as well as the topics to be discussed.
- Who will take/share meeting notes, and the list of tasks/responsibilities that need to be completed before we next meet? Can this be a collective task that rotates through the group?
- Keeping track of hours: let’s work together to come to shared and realistic understandings of the time certain tasks take (not under-scoping the job to fit the budget).
- Before we end a meeting, let’s recap: what was said / what was meant / how was it heard / discussion
- How do we end our meetings? Let’s check in, ask if everyone understands what their responsibilities are, and ask if anything feels unresolved, or lingering, or stressful.
- Does anyone need to apologise for, or acknowledge, their behaviour?
- Are we all stressed, and how can we deal with that? Do we need to scream together, take some time to be alone, look at a body of moving water, move our bodies so we sweat, listen to music, treat ourselves, think about what we’re thankful for, recognise people’s contributions?
- Can we schedule collective time to reflect on the aims / goals of the project, before it begins?
- Can we schedule time to reflect, during the project (quarterly, if the project feels “long term”)
- Can we also commit to scheduling a critical reflection after ‘the thing’ is done (and pay everyone for their time)? In this, can we identify ways to do things differently, and commit to building these into future processes (not just conveniently forgetting them and going back to how things are always done, because it’s less work)
- Is there a need for—or an opportunity to include—professional guidance, mentoring, an “outsider” to audit or facilitate our processes?
- Can we ask about people’s needs at the end of the project—if they are burned out, what would be a nice gesture? Do they need other work—how could we help?
- In doing so, can we also consider different currencies—are there other resources that can be offered, in addition to money? In addition to willingly writing a kind and genuine recommendation letter afterwards, could we commit to providing a support letter or reference for a future grant application, read an application, make an introduction, send an invitation?
NB Let’s be aware that acknowledgements and celebrations shouldn’t just happen at the conclusion of a project!
- Can we acknowledge the different conditions under which people are working, and the different resources we have (ie people with salaries might be fine to go to lunch after a meeting, but this could be a big pressure on people who are receiving a small fee)
- How should we acknowledge everyone’s work—publically, internally, amongst others in the field, online, archivally? Note to discuss image credits/acknowledgement line when reproducing/promoting the work.
- How should we celebrate everyone’s work—publically, internally, amongst others in the field, online, archivally? How to keep track of everyone involved, and make sure everyone is included in the celebrations?
- Can we look at the tracked hours, the tasks that were done, and the meetings we had, and acknowledge any differences between what was predicted in the original agreement, and what happened? Can we detail these discrepancies in a retrospective agreement, and agree to use this in future iterations of the job?
We welcome your feedback as we continue to refine these tools: email@example.com
Mentorship Toolbox for Artists. Co-authors and editors: Anne-Sofie Ericson, Anna Grip, Hanna Hedman, Albin Hillervik, Emelie Johansson, Peter Mills, Lisa Nyberg, Bodil Persson, Isaac Spencer & Rachel Tess. Milvus Artistic Research Center & SITE Stockholm, 2019. http://sitesweden.se/wp-content/uploads/2019/06/Mentorship-Toolbox.pdf
The work of Rosalie Schweiker http://rosalieschweiker.info/
The work of Sophie Chapman and Kerri Jefferies https://www.sophieandkerri.com/
Training for Exploitation? Politicising Employability & Reclaiming Education by Precarious Workers Brigade http://joaap.org/press/trainingforexploitation.htm
Art Workers—Material Conditions and Labour Struggles in Contemporary Art Practice. Co-written by Minna Henriksson, Erik Krikortz and Airi Triisberg http://www.art-workers.org/
Night Schoolers: Polyphonic Texts—Unionising Toolkit. Giovanna Esposito Yussif, Minna L. Henriksson, Elina Juopperi, Karolina Kucia, Christine Langinauer, Lauri Mattila, David Muoz, Minna Pöllänen, Martta Tuomaala, and Elina Vainio.