Self-Care Checklist for Precarious Workers

Self-Care Checklist for Precarious Workers

Tools of the Trade

The gig economy! Love it or hate it, it seems that we’re all in it. Thank you to Rachel Dobbs from UK-based artistic duo LOW PROFILE for creating an infographic (inspired by Sheila Ghelani‘s own checklist of care) that precarious workers (self-employed, freelance, zero hours…) can use as a reference to decide whether they should or shouldn’t take yet one more contract.

This is a fantastic resource as a risk assessment checklist for helping artists, independent producers and other precarious workers to say ‘no’ to work that may cause more harm than good. Use it, share it and check out Rachel’s original post for more insights into her process and references.

Self-Care Checklist for Precarious Workers

Self-Care Checklist for Precarious Workers

Gamified

Programming

In these troubled times of financial uncertainty, I’ve decided to invest. I am currently attempting to buy a share in KmikeyM, the first publicly-traded person. Here’s the short story:

The Conceptual Businesman: KMikeyM

I came across Mike Merrill via an article in The Atlantic detailing his journey into self-commodification. In 2008, he divided his ‘self’ into 100,000 shares and sold them at an initial public offering price of $1 a share. What started out as a creative experiment turned into a full-fledged simulated stock market with shares fluctuating , turning him into a publicly traded person.

KMikeyM Trading Chart

Shares allow stockholders to vote on Mike should do with his life, from who and how he should date to various questions big and small:

  •  Should he get a vasectomy? (Rejected)
  •  Should he subscribe to Spotify? (Approved)
  •  Should he grow a mustache? (Rejected)
  •  Should he attempt polyphasic sleeping? (Approved)

KMikeyM

I’m not sure I fully have the hang of the trading business yet – my offer to buy a share is still pending – but I already feel invested in the life of my “conceptual businessman” and look forward to weigh in on his next life-changing decision. He is now crowdfunding for his latest project, a ghostwritten book about a fictional version of himself that lets the public design the manifestation of his personal erotic fantasy – a collaborative Choose-Your-Own-Adventure process to have fun with what he terms himself a dumb genre by asking collaborators to debate and decide on what they want to read.

Publicly Traded Privately Held Video from Mike Merrill on Vimeo.

As with other projects launched by Mike Merrill, it’s holding a mirror to so many things: financial world, social networks, decision-making process, notions of authorship and readership… with a wonderfully absurd and deadpan strain of humour, but also some pretty serious theory bubbling behind. While his mantra – community through capitalism – can appear worryingly cynical, this reflection on markets as communities is a useful reminder of the role of money in our economies of life: an enabler of exchanges, a tool to build a platform, rather than something with intrinsic interest.

Have you noticed that, in itself, money is kind of one-dimensional and boring? What else can we talk about? These #81, Cluetrain Manifesto

Merrill’s creative response is to take this theory to its logical end: monetise everything, turn his blog into a shop and sell anything from digested reads (written by others), a random spreadsheet straight off his desktop, his attention ($5 for an email response) or his presence at your party (complete with Powerpoint presentation and laser pointer).

Radical Games: Molleindustria

Oiligarchy-screen

I discovered Molleindustria’s “radical games” around the time I was working at Unicorn, a Manchester-based vegan workers’ coop, spending a lot of time reading Corporate Watch and Red Pepper. Artist and game designer Paolo Pedercini describes his games as “homeopathic remedies to the idiocy of mainstream entertainment in the form of free, short-form, online games”, ranging from “satirical business simulations (McDonald’s Video game, Oiligarchy) to meditations on labor and alienation (Everyday the Same Dream, Tuboflex, Unmanned), from playable theories (the Free Culture Game, Leaky World) to politically incorrect pseudo-games (Orgasm Simulator, Operation: Pedopriest).”

Molleindustria from paolo pedercini on Vimeo.

The McDonald’s Video Game and Oiligarchy are old favourites, exploring the complex economies of the fast-food and oil industry and revealing how and why decisions are made. Molleindustria is now venturing into VR with a new experiential essay, The Short History of the Gaze… It requires Oculus Rift, so it’s not something I can comment on for the time being, but it makes me curious about the potential of VR for the performing arts.

Casual Games for Protesters

At the low-tech end, Molleindustria also recently launched Casual Games for Protesters, “an ongoing collection of games to be played in the context of marches, rallies, occupations and other protests” designed to facilitate meaningful participation.  

Co-designing the future: Games for Cities

At city scale, what can games and playfulness do for intergenerational and intercultural interaction and participation? Can they help to imagine more inclusive and sustainable cities?

Amsterdam-based Play the City is a city-building agency that creates bespoke games to involve stakeholders in creative problem-solving and imagine new ways to design and govern cities and systems. They respond to challenges ranging from affordable housing and  digital development to social change and urban transformation. With a range of partners, they also run the collaborative platform Games for Cities, which recently organised its first international conference, bringing together designers, urbanists and decision-makers.

Paolo Perdecini – him of Molleindustria – was one of the keynote speakers, taking a critical view of SimCity and the simulation game paradigm. SimCity’s ideology is at odds with the real – messy – world, presenting a winning urban ideal that’s all grid-shaped, zone-based and car-centred, devoid of historical class and racial conflicts, and unreservedly buying into the idea of unfettered growth. Perdecini describes his own city games series as Magical Marxism, inspired by Italo Calvino’s Invisible Cities – and the first chapter, Nova Alea, is a dreamy, intuitive user-led experience. He concludes by calling for a different kind of city game:

What we should make are not games that explain how cities work. But rather games we can use to think about our cities, past, present and future.

That’s where the performing arts approach – and its notions of process, participation and legacy – comes in. Toronto-based Mammalian Diving Reflex has developed an impressive portfolio of playful interventions and platforms for expression, giving voice to children, teenagers and seniors (talking about sex!). In France, public space collective La Folie Kilomètre imagines stories, promenades, poetry and mapping workshops to create new dialogues between people and cities. International platform Playable City platform – led by Bristol’s digital & arts centre Watershed – are working across a network of cities (to date, Bristol, Recife, Lagos, Tokyo, Sao Paulo, Oxford and Seoul) to prototype, develop and tour innovative projects that create sparks and disruption in the urban fabric.

Playable City puts people and play at the heart of the future city, re-using city infrastructure and re-appropriating smart city technologies to create connections – person to person, person to city.

Through interaction and creative installations it unlocks a social dialogue, bringing the citizens into a city development conversation – one which will vary in each location.

Playable City Lab in Lagos, Nigeria from Playable City on Vimeo.

What’s the relation between the custom-designed civic games of Play the City, city simulation games and these playful embodied artistic experiments? Are they completely different types of ‘games’ responding to different needs and set apart by motivation, purpose, expected outcomes and evaluation methods? What can each type learn from and bring to the other?

For researcher and designer Eric Gordon, the civic value of games lies in their “meaningful efficiencies”:  

We play games not because they are inefficient systems, but because the inefficiency in games—that means that the fastest path between point A and point B is not a direct line—provides some ability to make meaning from that process.  (…)

A system with mere inefficiencies is something that’s frustrating. There is no clear opportunity for a meaningful encounter with a system or another person, it’s just about frustration with not being able to proceed.

Deliberation is a great example of a meaningful inefficiency within a democratic process. The quickest way for a group to make a democratic decision would be to vote. But the process of deliberation where there is dialogue that builds over time where multiple stakeholders are involved, and the positionality of those stakeholders matters. That very process is a process that people engage in not because it is efficient, but because it is inefficient. There is opportunity for people to discover things along the way. It is actually designed for that purpose.

In a different interview, he also points out the distinction between ‘gamification’ – making a particular situation more playful in order to nudge users/players to a particular behavior or a desired outcome beneficial to the provider of the game, in other words setting the agenda and employing a behavioristic strategy to motivate people to carry it – and ‘engagement’ or ‘empowerment’ – including play to empower users to set (or at least influence) the agenda themselves. Just like it is important to be aware of ideological biases in simulation games before using them as educational activities, considering the nature of participation is essential when setting up a game-inspired project. Artist-led initiatives and residencies – such as Mary Miss’s City as Living Laboratory – can enable conversations with and amongst residents that city planners and bureaucratic structures find difficult to foster.

Working

The Long Read

Jobs are not big enough for people. It’s not just the assembly line worker whose job is too small for his spirit, you know? A job like mine, if you really put your spirit into it, you would sabotage immediately. You don’t dare. So you absent your spirit from it. My mind has been so divorced from my job, except as a source of income, it’s really absurd.
—Nora Watson, editor

 

I’ve come across Studs Terkel via his good friend Kurt Vonnegut, who quotes him in A Man Without a Country, his memoir-esque final book.

Working: People Talk About What They Do All Day and How They Feel About What They Do is a collection of over 80 interviews conducted in the 1970s with Americans from all walks of life. Studs Terkel, a broadcaster and oral historian, manages to both create a warm space for an intimate conversation and make himself transparent, and the transcripts read as insightful monologues constantly flowing between the personal and the universal. Working has been turned into a musical and adapted as a comic book by American Splendor’s Harvey Pekar.     

 

This book, being about work, is, by its very nature, about violence – to the spirit as well as to the body. It is about ulcers as well as accidents, about shouting matches as well as fistfights, about nervous breakdowns as well as kicking the dog around. It is, above all, (or beneath all), about daily humiliations. To survive the day is triumph enough for the walking wounded among the great many of is. (…) It is about a search, too, for daily meaning as well as daily bread, for recognition as well as cash, for astonishment rather than torpor; in short, for a sort of life rather than a Monday through Friday sort of dying. Perhaps immortality, too, is part of the quest. To be remembered was the wish, spoken and unspoken, of the heroes and heroines of this book.
Introduction

 

Working tells the extraordinary stories of ordinary people, and the everyday grind of those in the limelight – in their own voice. Policeman, bus driver, pharmacist, professional hockey player, farm worker, switchboard operator, airline stewardess, actor, doorman, piano tuner, gas meter reader, private eye, hair stylists… sit for a while with Terkel, in their home, in a tavern, in the boss’s office, and share a moment with him, opening up about their life, their feelings, their dreams. Some have already put a lot of thought into what they’re being asked to talk about, for others it feels like they’re discovering themselves in the conversation, revealing their inner contradictions and sometimes finding resolution. There’s a precious quality of individuality that comes through every single interview, but also a sense of interconnectedness that emerges from the accumulation of stories.

Studs Terkel made a point of scouting for people whose voice is not often heard, those who toil in the dark, are oppressed, marginalised, or trying to escape their golden cage. Class, race and gender loom large in the life choices of Terkel’s interlocutors. Barbara Herrick, a farmer’s daughter and award-winning writer / producer in the male-dominated ad world, is often ignored by clients at meetings – or asked to make them coffee – until she starts one her brilliant presentation. Roberto Acuna, farm worker, born on a cotton sack, picking the fields seven days a week from the age of 8, now organising for the United Farm Workers of America, has one wish:

 

If people could see—in the winter, ice on the fields. We’d be on our knees all day long. We’d build fires and warm up real fast and go back on the ice. We’d be picking watermelons in 105 degrees all day long. When people have melons or cucumber of carrots or lettuce, they don’t know how they got on their table and the consequences to the people who picked it. If I had enough money, I would take busloads of people out to the fields and into the labor camps. Then they’d know how that dine salad got on their table.
—Roberto Acuna, farm worker  

 

Some are fulfilled by their job:  

 

People imagine a waitress couldn’t possibly think of have any kind of aspiration other than to serve food. When somebody says to me, “You’re great, how come you’re just a waitress?” Just a waitress. I’d say, “Why, don’t you think you deserve to be served by me?” It’s implying that he’s not worthy, not that I’m not worthy. I makes me irate. I don’t feel lowly at all. I myself feel sure. I don’t want to change the job. I love it.
Dolores Dante, waitress

 

Others suffer from the daily drag, the erosion of their rights, the contempt from management:

 

All I do now is get up in the morning, go there, and I don’t be thinking about that. Like a machine, that’s about the only way I can feel.
—Will Robinson, bus driver

 

Some lose their illusions:

 

We were caught up in the American Dream. You’ve gotta have a house. You’ve gotta have a country club. You’ve gotta have two cars. Here you are at ten grand and getting nowhere. So I doubled my salary. I also doubled my grief. I now made twenty thousand dollars; had an expense account, a Country Squire—air-conditioned station wagon given by the company—a wonderful boss. We began to accumulate. We got a house in the suburbs and we got a country club membership and we got two cars and we got higher taxes. We got nervous and we started drinking more and smoking more. Finally, one day we sat down. We have everything and we are poor.
Fred Ringley, ex-salesman, farmer

 

And some take action:

 

When I worked as a bartender, I felt like a non-person. I was actually nothing. I was a nobody going nowhere. I was in a state of limbo. I have no hopes, no dreams, no ups, no downs, nothing. Being a policeman gives me the challenge in life I want.
Vincent Maher, policeman

 

Some find meaning in their life, beyond their job, by becoming reluctant leaders:

 

I was one of the organisers here when the union came. I was as anti-union in the beginning as I am union now. Coming from a small farm community in Wisconsin, I didn’t know what a union was all about. I didn’t understand the labor movement at all. In school you’re shown the bad side of it.

Before the union came in, all I did was do my eight hours, collect my paycheck, and o home, did my housework, took care of my daughter, and went back to work. I had no outside interests. You just lived to live. Since I became active in the union, I’ve become active in politics, in the community, in legislative problems. I’ve been to Washington on one or two trips. I’ve been to Springfield. That had given me more of an incentive for life.
—Grace Clements, felter in a luggage factory

 

We meet those who have found their calling, like Father Leonard Dubi, son of a steelworker and radical priest, taking on corporations and politicians to fight against pollution, poor planning decisions and corruption.

Others are making both a life and a living:   

 

I knew when I was eight years old that I wasn’t going to amount to anything in the business world. I wanted my life to have something to do with adventure, something unknown, something involved with a free life, something to do with wonder and astonishment. I loved to play—the fact that I could express myself in improvisation, the unplanned.
—Bud Freeman, jazz musician

 

And there are those who are still searching, like Charlie Blossom, upper middle class college dropout, hyperbolic hippy on a brief stint as a copy boy for a Chicago newspaper, who bring sunflower seeds to his co-workers and dreams of murdering his capitalist boss.

For a job that is similar on paper, two workers might have completely different attitudes – because so much of how they feel about it is down to the level of autonomy and responsibility they are offered or have carved for themselves. To quote Norma’s words, they are satisfied when they can put their spirit, whole and sincere, into what they do, when the job is big enough for them to be a full human being. Studs Terkel makes no comment outside his introduction, he passes no judgement on his subjects, but the fact that he features so heavily union members, second-chancers, angry young women and men and people fulfilled by creating value and connections to others and to the world is a strong hint at the kind of society he favours. And when articulating the need for change in his Introduction, he goes on to quote yet another union leader:

 

Perhaps it is time the “work ethics” was redefined and its idea reclaimed from the banal men who invoke it. In a world of cybernetics, of an almost runaway technology, things are increasingly making things. It is for our species, it would seem, to go on to other matters. Human matters. Freud put it one way. Ralph Helstein puts it another. He is president emeritus of the United Packinghouse Workers of America. “Learning is work. Caring for children is work. Community action is work. Once we accept the concept of work as something meaningful—not just as the source of a buck—you don’t have to worry about finding enough jobs. There’s no excuse for mules anymore. Society does not need them. There’s no question about our ability to feed and clothe and house everybody. The problem is going to come in finding enough ways for man to keep occupied, so he’s in touch with reality.”

 

Terkel concludes: “Our imaginations have obviously not yet been challenged”.

 

40 years on, technology has accelerated automation far beyond all expectations, education is still preparing young people for jobs and structures that don’t exist anymore, and chronic mass unemployment and underemployment are robbing many out of the right to make a life, fulfilled and dignified, out of making a living.
We need to challenge our imaginations to try out new ways of learning, of being together, of caring for each other and the world, and of valuing what is being produced within and outside formal contracts of employment. Universal Basic Income, or Citizen’s Income, is making its way into the mainstream, with pilots under way in Finland since January 2017 and starting soon in Ontario. It redefines the meaning of belonging to a community, enabling people to care for each other and removing the stigma of negative ‘benefits’; and it challenges the notion that employment is the source of all value, conflating money, status and identity.

Jazz North Originals Survey

Programming

Following a sector consultation with 25 artists and artistic directors, a pilot project with Manchester-based composer and improviser Rodrigo Constanzo and research into promoters’ operational capacity, Art of Festivals is conducting a survey on behalf of Jazz North to understand better how commissioning new music can be better supported.

This next stage of development aims to establish a consolidated approach to commissioning new work that can assist the jazz sector in building relevant partnerships and encouraging new thought processes.

There are 3 different short surveys for artists, promoters and arts managers / creative producers with commissioning experience. For any questions about the project or if you want to discuss your experience in more depth, email me or indicate your interest at the end of the survey.

 

Artists

Have you been commissioned by a festival or venue to create a new piece of music? Please complete the Artist survey.

Promoters & Curators

Do you commission new works or present projects with multiple components, such as residencies, participation or education? Please complete the Promoter survey.

Arts Managers & Creative producers

Do you have experience working on commissions or projects with multiple components, such as residencies, participation or education? Please complete the Producer survey.

 

jazz-north-logo

The Jazz Papers

The Long Read

I’ve just started to develop a new project for Jazz North tentatively called northern originals Phase 3, a follow-up to the consultation and pilot project I ran from 2013 to 2015, and right now I’m trawling the Internet archives to unearth policy and research documents about strategic planning and audience development for jazz and contemporary music. As this is something that could be useful to anyone interested in the future of jazz in the UK, I’ve listed what I’ve found so far below in chronological order from older to newer, and will add more as they emerge.

 

Jazz – the Case for a Better Investment

(Jazz Services, 1993)
pdf online

A Policy for the Support of Jazz in England

(Arts Council England, 1996)
pdf online

How to Develop Audiences for Jazz

(Morris Hargreaves McIntyre, 2001)
pdf online
market research and industry conference

Contemporary Music Enthusiasts: How can we persuade people to try something different?

(Heather Maitland, Journal of Arts Marketing, 2002)
pdf online

Guide to Getting Bigger Jazz Audiences

(Heather Maitland, Jazz Services / EMJAZZ, 2011?)
pdf online

Rhythm Changes: Historical Overviews of Five Partner Countries

(Bruckner-Haring, C. & Whyton, T. (eds.), Graz, 2013)
pdf online

New Music : New Audiences final evaluation report

(New:Aud European project, 2014)
pdf online