Are You There, Artists? It’s Me, Jane.
There is a particular rhetoric that gets thrown around Adelaide theatre circles (and I really do hope it is Adelaide specific) which goes along the lines of Arts Administrators exist only to steal money away from the artists. It is brought up frequently. For every one time it is specifically brought up as an attacking piece of “conversation” or “debate”, it is mentioned ten times as a side remark or a snide comment.
It often stems out of the funding debate. And there are certainly questions to be asked about distribution of arts funding. But when this specifically is brought up this is not what is said, and is not what is heard. What I hear is a pointed and deliberate attack on administrators as individuals.
Monday will be one year since I started my Arts Administration Traineeship. That is one year of working hard on a crap wage for the belief that when I do my job well, I create the framework so artists can do their job better.
Are there dickheads who work in arts administration? Absolutely. Just as there are dickheads who are artists. But in my experience, most administrators are there because they love art, and because they want to support artists. They want to do all the crappy jobs (and there are a lot of crappy jobs, just as there are lots of good jobs) and ultimately get everyone paid. Including themselves, for their long hours and crappy wage.
No one works in the arts to get rich. We could be working in the corporate sector, “ripping off” big business, for a lot more money.
I hate feeling that I am working myself so hard at a job I am really good at and that people – the very people we do this all for – can’t see that. I hate seeing people who have worked in this sector for years are still attacked, and must still defend their choice to be an administrator. I hate seeing friends who describe themselves as equally proud of being an artist and an administrator, made to feel lesser because someone thinks half of that is selling out.
I am so glad I work in film, where the role of the producer and administrators is respected. Vitriol like this makes me question if I will ever work within a theatre context. Because I can’t handle being attacked in this way.
I can’t handle being accused of being lesser than my artist counterparts. I can’t handle being accused of working this job only so I can steal and squander money from the artist. I can’t handle being told that I wouldn’t be a good theatre curator, because as someone who isn’t an artist I will never truly understand the work. I can’t handle being told all this, and then being told, by a woman, that I will never have a leadership position because of my gender. I absolutely disagree with every one of these statements.
I am twenty-two. I have been employed as an administrator for a year. I love my job, and the people I work with, and all of the incredible people who have supported me throughout this year. Most days I feel like I want to commit myself to this profession for life. Some days I have to listen to things like this, and question why I think I want to work a job which affords so little respect from the very people we do this all for.
Not everyone is saying this. I believe there are more artists who understand and respect the role of administrators than who don’t. But the people who make these comments are often very loud. They often speak very well. I’m sure it can be attractive for an artist to hear these comments and think ‘I’m not getting paid enough. Are these people the reason why?’ So it is very easy for these opinions to dominate a room; even if they’re not the thoughts of everyone, a room that is overall very anti-administrator can be the result.
And that really hurts.
I think it is important to note that this came up on International Women’s Day, at an event about women in the arts. This is important to note, because I feel like I am more judged, more attacked, more sidelined, for being an arts administrator than I have ever felt for being a woman, or for being a feminist.
Is this really the arts culture I tell myself I love? Some days I’m not too sure.