This week I started volunteering with the Real Junk Food Project. From dealing with inexplicably rotten eggs and cooking without gas on my first two days, I learnt a lot about spontaneous problem-solving, as well as a whole new concept of paying for food. They work on a ‘pay-as-you-feel’ basis, whereby you can give a money donation after your meal but can also offer your skills, time, energy and ideas in exchange for food. This ethos really speaks to me – I like legitimising the value of someone’s non-financial attributes as a way of building communities and side-stepping capitalist structures.
However, this realisation coincided with a newfound creativity. Over the past couple of weeks, I have become very focussed on my poetry and have been writing more, offering to run workshops, collecting testimonies, finding competitions… I am suddenly so fixated on the idea of being a poet professionally – and this is where I hit my dilemma.
Last month, my friend Jess posted about artists having a “collective responsibility” to insist on getting paid reasonably to destroy the idea that art is not a ‘proper’ career. Plus, I’ve been thinking a lot about how so often artists are expected to work just for “exposure” (ie for free). This attitude already means that the art world is very elitist, excluding almost all but those who have the wealth to pursue creative projects as a hobby.
And this is my problem. On the one hand, I want to share my skills and my art with others for free because undermining capitalism is a great thing. On the other, I can’t take down capitalism by myself and in the meantime me and other artists still need to survive within it. And in that respect I have a duty to poets and other art-makers to demand fair payment for the time and effort that goes into my work… I’m still working out how to strike the balance between ethics and survival. I’ll let you know if I get there.