The other way I was on my way to the Post Office on Grosvenor Square and this ‘mob’ of youngsters dressed as Santa were heading towards Hyde Park. I asked what was going on and to my shock, they were going to protest against the person that, in my opinion, is destroying all good that is left in the contemporary art world. I am referring to Hans Obriest, deputy director of the Serpentine Gallery.
Protesters dressed as Santa Claus staged a protest at Serpentine Gallery over the weekend, the Guardian reported. The action was taken against advertisements the gallery had placed for unpaid work. The festive protest was organised by campaign group Future Interns and the Precarious Workers Brigade. Santas held a large banner reading “All We Want For Xmas is Pay,” and gave out scrolls to passers by. These contained the original job postings, along with comments as to why the role should be paid, such as: “if you contribute to the running of an organisation, you are entitled to national minimum wage.”
The jobs advertised were for “3 month volunteer placements” within the co-directors office, the public programmes department, and the individual giving team. The group contacted the gallery prior to the protest on Friday, 13 December to say: “we are concerned that by not paying people, only those who can afford to work for free will be able to benefit from volunteering at the Serpentine, gain experience in these areas of work and therefore pursue a career in the sector.” The Future Interns and Precarious Workers Brigade were making a very good point which is that jobs in the arts sector are only for the rich or for the already established. I asked the gallery about this and they answered: “the Serpentine is a charitable arts organisation showcasing arts for everyone free of charge.” They continue, “we often take volunteers without previous experience and skills are presented merely as suggestions to candidates.” To say it clearly, this is illegal because
When arts organisations are charitable institutions they are legally able to advertise volunteer roles. However, this is with the understanding that the hours are flexible, commitment is actually voluntary and the work is not akin to a paid position elsewhere. The government and the Arts Council both explain these differences in greater detail, with guidelines for organisations wishing to employ interns.
Maybe this is the reason why the group received an email from the gallery’s communications manager with an admission of guilt. It said: “we take our responsibility as employers very seriously and this advertisement is not in line with our current terms on Volunteer placements.” The campaign groups state: “Future Interns and [Precarious Workers Brigade] will be keeping a close eye on the developments to make sure that The Serpentine’s admission of being in the wrong about their internship programme is followed up by a concrete change in policy!”
This is great news because in London, arts institution also manipulate with the excuse of ‘training’ and also of ‘class’. In other words, it is unthinkable for an intern to ask about anything. It is required that the ‘intern’ pays for all his or her expenses and also be submissive. I heard stories of people being discriminated because they had a ‘regional’ accent (Irish, for example) or did not live in Zone 1. Of course, there result is for all to see. They are not recruiting or training the best but those with the right ‘attitude’ and the whole arts game becomes a private club. Just a thought.