Precarious Nature of Cultural Labor Markets


It seems that the vast majority of cultural workers learn to live with the precarity of the industry or they eventually move on to other career paths. All this week’s readings discuss common trends among cultural workers and the creative industry. 

In their meta analysis, Alper and Wasall examined several types of studies on creative laborers and found that artists were more likely to unemployed or unstable in their employment status. Menger reflected the same findings and added that there was more “self-employment, freelancing and contingent work.” According to Menger’s findings, artists or creative workers experienced discontinuity, jumping between jobs, more likely to hold multiple jobs and cluster in a few urban areas. Multiple jobholders sometimes had a couple of different arts jobs or held jobs in unrelated fields altogether. The first current event article, describes many of the jobs famous authors held before striking it big. For example, Stephen King worked as a high school janitor and Robert Frost did everything from teaching, delivering newspapers to light bulb filament changer in a factory. These authors had to find ways to make ends meet until they were able to make it big and have their artistic careers pay for them to live and produce more literature. While it is interesting to read about what they did before becoming famous, it reminds me of how unfortunate it is that the majority of creative workers will not be as lucky. 

Furthermore, Menger found that in order to survive, many artists had to expand their skillset to include more managerial and entrepreneurial skills. To make it in the industry was not necessarily solely dependent on a person’s talent or artistic skill. There are many articles or blog entries such as the one from the Arts Biz Blog that provide tips or advice for creative workers on how to build their business. This particular blog entry provided tips on marketing your business through a website and social media. This reflects what many of the readings we discussed in class suggested – being a successful creative worker requires additional soft skills and the ability to think and act like a ‘suit’.

The Oakley reading suggested that creative workers might put up with this unstable type of lifestyle because many artists earn “psychic income,” which allows the workers to gain satisfaction from the quality of the work produced rather than the little monetary income they receive. It could also be this feeling of independence or autonomy the creative workers get from the flexibility of working in such an industry. Perhaps it is due to the belief that they will make it big one day in the industry that causes creative workers to endure precarity. What Oakley did reference in the study is an increasing difficulty for aging cultural workers to sustain the lifestyle where benefits are from a non-monetary income and they tire from constantly hustling for work. The third blog entry from the Freelancers Union I found is more for fun. It outlines a more positive view of a day in the life of a freelancer. The Oakley reading suggests the working in the creative industry is a double-edge sword where cultural workers must weigh the pros and cons at each step and decide whether or not to stay in the workforce.

– Tunga


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