On the final day of our month considering labor in the arts, we bring you an open letter and call to action from Senior Adjunct Frances Richard on labor, value, and unionization. This letter was originally published in an email to the administration at California College of the Arts on June 2, 2016.
Dear President Beal, Provost Carland, and members of the Administration Negotiating Team,
I have been an adjunct for all my teaching life. For years, this was a professional choice, as it allowed me time and flexibility to pursue the other, equally important aspects of my practice–writing and publishing poetry and criticism, and editing magazines. I’ve written three books and co-authored, contributed to, and edited many more; I’ve written for the Guggenheim Museum, the Whitney Museum, Independent Curators International, Creative Time, The New Yorker, BOMB, Aperture, and many others. I’ve won prizes, grants, and fellowships–I write from a residency right now–and I’ve been part of the editorial team at two artist-run publications, Fence and Cabinet. I have a piece in a national magazine (The Nation) going out this week. And I’ve taught across the spectrum of institutions, from the Ivy League to art schools (RISD and Parsons in addition to CCA) to the Bard Prison Initiative.
I know perfectly well that my adjunct colleagues at CCA and at each of the other schools I’ve named could write similar lists. Every long-term adjunct I’ve ever met has a wildly impressive, expansive, and rigorous record of engagement in her field. Often she–my generalized adjunct colleague–excels in several fields at once.
It’s only in the last few years that I have felt the sharp edge of the adjuncting system cutting into my livelihood, and into my sense of the integrity of university education in the US. I used to take pleasure in assuring students that they could become artists, work as freelancers, and thrive: I’d done it, and so had most of my friends. You are artists yourselves, so doubtless you can understand how important it has been to be able to tell students, with absolute honesty, that the path of the creative intellectual and imaginative craftsperson remains open to them in contemporary culture, regardless of their economic and family backgrounds, despite the pressures of a capitalist-realist system whose internal logic reduces every public effort to market value.