Friday, August 31, 2012

PLEASE READ THIS IS IMPORTANT!!! Labor Issues, Artists Work and Held Wages…

I am not one to use FB as a soapbox for my socio-political beliefs, although I probably should more often. However, this issue is too close, too relevant, too important to me not to share or encourage your participation… here’s why:

Penland School of Crafts is an amazing arts institution with a long and rich history of celebrating and supporting craftspeople in the pursuit of living a creative life – from the early 1900’s to the present day. This educational experience in the arts is like no other. A workshop based philosophy, where artist/teacher works in the studio along side their students. Teachers and students live and work together, eat meals, go on walks, and I will say have a few great dance parties together day in and day out for weeks or months at a time in the remote mountains of Western North Carolina. This isolated environment and community allows for open and honest sharing of ideas and information in a concentrated technical based curriculum with ideas and interactions mixing and mingling among the 16 different studios ranging from glass, textiles, wood, clay, photo (to name only a few).

Anyone who has ever been to Penland, has breathed in its fresh mountain air, seen Luna Moths and spiders larger than your average apple, or heard the coal trains as they squeal on their tracks sound as if whales were singing in the mountains. But what really marks the true “Penland Experience” is the pure joy of making, the free experimentation in materials, the encouragement and beauty in processes and methodologies that seem to become more ancient history. This may sound like some magical fairytale, but, in fact, it is true – I witnessed it again and again.

I had the amazing good fortune to be a CORE Student Fellow at the school from 2005-2007. This scholarship granted me with a two year work exchange. I was housed in one of the original buildings on campus with 8 other CORE Fellows. If we weren’t working in the studio we were working for the school, cooking meals, cleaning houses, managing work study students, Mopping floors, etc etc. But, I got to be in two years worth of amazing classes and I really began to understand my love of material and my problem solving skills in making which carried me through grad school to this day. At the time, the school’s logo/motto was Penland School of Crafts: Mind, Hand, Material. Simple, Poetic, Profound. An essay can be written on each one of those words as it relates to art making. I’ll focus on Hand. In the crafts the idea of the hand is used so frequently to refer to the individual artist’s mark or evidence of making; their personal labor. However, it is foolish to think that any artist is a lone genius. The notion that their hand is the only one that made the work, is naive. No one really makes work alone, we often have a built-in community that shares the work. Someone helps us carry, cut, hang, lift, fix, move, hold, build or make with us or for us in relation to the work. These acts are directly related to the “Art”. But, what about all the hidden labor in our own making?? The work of industry for our materials or mining of our energy for overhead, belongs to a myriad of people unnamed and unknown. The Hand as it relates to Labor of Studio, especially at Penland includes the maintenance of the equipment, the ordering of supplies, the organizing of events, the availability as a resource, the demonstration of tools, the managing of assistants, the cleaning of studios, and the improvement of facilities. This is a tiny fraction of the labor of the Studio Coordinator, their labor is a part of the artist’s work. Their labor enables the student, their work creates the ‘magic dust’ so everyone can have that famous ‘Penland Experience’, their job allows the weaver to weave and the blacksmith to smith. We, as artists, owe it to the laborers who have played a part in our work. We, as a member of humanity, owe it to fellow workers who were taken advantage of and denied their earned pay. We, as members of the Penland community, owe it to our neighbors and friends who make Penland so wonderful.

It has been found that Penland was involved in illegal withholding of overtime pay for the Studio Coordinators, a very crucial part of the operational staff.

I stand with the studio coordinators for rightful pay, not because I stand against Penland, but because my intention and signature stand for the Penland that I believe in. What I hope is that Penland, an institution made up of people and artists (many of whom I love and respect), will come out from the shadows of their pride, and recognize this egregious error for what it really was and reconcile the wrong in an honorable and honest way. I hope Penland will make the changes so labor injustices won’t happen again. I hope Penland will change policy so that can be a leader as an employer and stand out as an exemplar in the much larger Art Community.

If you sign this you love Penland. Or perhaps you love art, the process of art making, the labor of artists and the hope for institutions like this to stay true to its vision, and not get swallowed up by a pride cloaked in corporate greed. Let’s hope Penland finds its moral compass, navigate back on track toward the mission that sets them apart from any other art educational institution or Corporate Big Business.
Occupy Penland.

I hope my fellow Core Students and extended Core Family stand with me too.

Natalie Tornatore Core’05-‘07


Anonymous said...

I hope everyone reads the latest response from Penland about the resolution to this controversy--very informative, especially if you go on to read the Q&A part:

Sector C said...

Incredibly powerful, Natalie.

Sector C said...

Incredibly powerful and spot-on, Natalie.