Art and Work Within and Beyond Crisis. Introduction.

Early May, 2020 – ongoing

by Brett Wallace


This web document/labor notebook attempts to explore and map artistic responses to crisis at the intersection of art, labor, and the economy. Its purpose is to explore how work and artistic practice – as a form of work – is reshaped under the conditions of employment in crisis to acknowledge and share new alternative forms of practice that prioritize collectivity, care, health, generosity, solidarity, and transformation.

This is a rough cut start to what I hope to be an ongoing generative project. It is a project inspired by many artists and activists around the world who work towards imagining and building new possibilities and paradigms. That said, I acknowledge this notebook is coming at this topic through a U.S. lens and largely reflects my personal experiences as a New York-based artist. 

The COVID-19 crisis has exposed the systemic challenges facing workers over the last four decades.  The last half century has seen real wages flatten while workers take on increased spending in the form of housing, transportation, fuel, food, healthcare, and education costs, as well as debt. Wealth for the 1% has increased substantially while 50% of American workers are living paycheck-to-paycheck and many small businesses exist on the brink of collapse with only a few months of payroll on hand. Labor protections from the New Deal have been rolled back by the perniciousness of neoliberalism, a situation further exacerbated by the gig economy. Many frontline workers lack the appropriate healthcare or housing they deserve as a human right. The economy has come to a near halt, and the playbook of corporate bailouts, reminiscent of the 2008 bailout of the big banks, has been redeployed to save systems over people.

While survival and health are paramount in this time, this crisis has also created spaces and opportunities to not just reimagine and reshape the ideology of the current system, but also to envision new possibilities and paradigms – and begin to put these into practice. To stay healthy, to care for others, to share, to deconstruct, and to rethink is all part of the skilled work of communities – including artists – around the world. Experimentation with new models will come from artistic communities; it is critical we nourish these activities.

This evolving document includes the following sections –

Part 1- the landscape – how is the landscape of work changing in this crisis?

Part 2 – art worlds – how will the art world(s) be reshaped?

Part 3 – potential responses – what are potential artistic responses toward self-care, collectivity, autonomy, and sustainability?

The first public presentation of this notebook took place on May 13, 2020 in a conversation hosted by Elizabeth Ferrer at BRIC.

Brett Wallace: Artistic Response to Crisis

Visual artist Brett Wallace and BRIC’s Chief Curator, Elizabeth Ferrer, join us today to discuss the landscape of work in this crisis, what post-COVID 19 art worlds may look like, and potential artistic responses.

Posted by BRIC on Wednesday, May 13, 2020

You are free to use and share any information and if you have thoughts to share, please feel free to contact me:

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  • @brettwallacenyc

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