May 1 Call

On May 1, 2012, the Occupy movement, which grew out of Occupy Wall Street and demonstrations in other parts of the world, has asked people to join in a “day without the 99%,” general strike, and more to protest the growing disparity of wealth in our society, a financial system that rewards the rich and exerts outsize influence on government and electoral politics, and the destruction to our planet caused by industry and disastrous environmental policies. Arts & Labor, a working group of Occupy Wall Street that organizes around labor issues in the arts, supports this call and asks artists, art workers, and all other people to join us in making May 1 a day of creative, festive, and nonviolent reclamation of public space, replacing our society’s emphasis on private profits with public solidarity and mutual aid.

Art has historically been treated as a realm of imagination, innovation, or utopian promise apart from the workaday world. But art today also mirrors the growing inequality in our society. Few other fields exhibit such striking contrasts of wealth and increasing want. Although those who produce, maintain, educate, and run the art world often work in close proximity to extreme wealth, the riches, glamour, and record-breaking auction prices reported in the media disguise the realities they face.

Like many workers today—especially freelance, adjunct, and temporary ones—those who work in the arts face cuts to or already live without healthcare, childcare, job security, unemployment benefits, pensions, or retirement plans. The situation gets all the more grim when the rationale of austerity threatens limited existing social services with further cuts. Many cultural workers are one ambulance ride away from financial ruin. This vulnerability links what has been labeled the “creative class” with all other workers, students, and the unemployed: the 99% excluded from the growing concentration of wealth.

In the field of contemporary art alone, to become an artist in the neoliberal system of galleries, museums, art fairs, and biennials, artists increasingly feel obligated to obtain an expensive education that puts them in debt—sometimes well over $100,000. And this debt, which mirrors the larger student debt crisis in this country, is particularly insidious because it is incurred to gain accreditation in a field that still includes a high degree of risk with slim chances of sustainable returns.

Although artists were once able to live and work in affordable enclaves, the burgeoning size of the art world now plays a role in profound changes to our cities. Several decades ago, the real estate industry saw how the “improvements” artists made to low income and minority neighborhoods could pave the way for development, making these neighborhoods appealing to higher-income transplants who eventually priced out artists and the original inhabitants. These practices privilege speculative investment over affordable housing and have contributed to the current housing crisis, marked by widespread foreclosures.

With contemporary art treated in many precincts as a luxury commodity or high-end form of entertainment, cities around the world rushed to build a Museum of Contemporary Art, designed by a well-known architect. Despite their aims to boost local economies, these efforts often furthered the cycle of development and displacement. These institutions also became increasingly more indebted to corporate sponsors and wealthy trustees—the 1% who have benefited most by the rise of finance capital, rampant deregulation, and the powerful real estate industry.

As a new collector class rose in the ‘80s and ‘90s, pumping money into the art market, public institutions like museums were increasingly defunded, forcing them to rely on tax-free private donations. As public coffers are drained and institutions get mortgaged to private interests, the question arises, Whom does this benefit? And at what cost?

Joining with others on May 1 and reiterating the concerns raised by the Occupy movement last fall, we call for reducing student debt and for greater transparency and equitable practices in our institutions. As part of a larger struggle to protect the rights of workers, we call for an end to the exploitative use of interns, which allows institutions to profit from uncompensated labor and ensures only those with independent financial means can work in the arts. We call for city administrations to stop rezoning plans that profit the real estate industry and eradiate affordable housing. And we demand our government and industries fund public institutions and services rather than continuing to cater to the wealthiest in our society.

On May 1, we ask those who work in the arts to assemble with all others to work toward greater equality and to create sustainable ways of living on this planet. Let us free art from the vagaries of financial speculation and privatization and restore its promise of a better world. By sharing its power to enrich all of our lives, let us make it part of our struggle to reclaim the commons.


For schedules of May 1 events in NYC, see and

May Day 2012 Actions

99 Picket Lines
Midtown Manhattan
Community groups, unions, affinity groups and OWS
more info

Pop-up Occupation with Mutual Aid (unpermitted)
8am–2pm, Bryant Park, Manhattan
Occupy Wall Street
more info

Bike Bloc
9am, Union Square, Manhattan
Strike Everywhere
more info

The Free University: Lectures, Workshops, Skill-Shares and Discussions
10am–3pm, Madison Square Park, Manhattan
more info

May Day poetry!
11:00am–1:00 pm, Bryant Park
3:30 pm, Union Square

High School Student Walkout Convergence
12pm, Fort Greene Park, Brooklyn
more info

Repeal Employer Sanctions Law March
12pm, 26 Federal Plaza
more info

Guitarmy: Guitar Workshop and Rehearsal with Tom Morello
Permitted Gathering Space for May Day Festivities
12pm, Bryant Park, Gertrude Stein Statue (east side), Manhattan
OWS Music working group
more info

Day Without Workers/Día sin los Trabajadores: May Day March and Speakout
2pm, 5th Ave. at 54th St. in Brooklyn, marching to 36th St & 4th Ave. to take subway at 3:30pm to Union Square rally in Manhattan
Occupy/Ocupemos Sunset Park
more info

Occupy Wall Street & Guitarmy March (unpermitted)
2pm, Bryant Park to Union Square, Manhattan

Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Two-Spirit, Trans and Gender Non-Conforming Contingent!
3pm at Regal Movie Theatre, 50 Broadway (at 13th St.) – joining rally at Union Square after
Audre Lorde Project, FIERCE, Queers for Economic Justice, Streetwise and Safe and the Sylvia Rivera Law Project
more info

Solidarity Rally with Tom Morello, Dan Deacon, Immortal Technique, Das Racist, Bobby Sanabria and special guests (permitted)
4–5:30pm, Union Square, Manhattan
May First Coalition, Labor Unions and OWS
more info

May Day Choir Convergence
5:15pm, Madison Square Park (in front of the fountain), Manhattan
more info

Solidarity March (permitted)
5:30pm, Union Square to Wall Street, Manhattan
May First Coalition, Labor Unions and OWS
more info

JD Samson & MEN Perform
7pm, 2 Broadway
After the march concludes, more performances and speakers will start the after-party!

Occupy Wall Street Afterparty
8pm, Wall Street areadetails forthcoming…

Occupy the Clubs: Musicians Must Be Paid! 
9:30pm, Sara D. Roosevelt Park, SE corner of Chrystie & Houston, Manhattan
Musicians Solidarity Council
more info

Arts & Labor #OWS Releases Flyer “Interns! Know Your Rights” for Widespread Distribution

On April 25, 2012, Arts & Labor approved the release and distribution of the informational flyer “Interns! Know Your Rights.” The flyer was prepared to help curb and reverse an ongoing threat to the health, sustainability and vibrancy of the arts production economy: uncompensated labor in the form of unpaid internships. With the intention of spreading information and raising consciousness, Arts & Labor hopes it is read, reproduced and disseminated widely, whether on college campuses, at workplaces, or anywhere else that interested parties will encounter its message.

Download the “Interns! Know Your Rights” PDF
Spread the word on Facebook

Arts & Labor #OWS Expands Campaign Against Unpaid Internships at For-Profit Businesses

Six Major Arts Job Boards Served Letters Calling for an End to Exploitative Practice

On Wednesday, April 18, 2012, six major online job boards, including the New York Foundation for the Arts’ Jobs in the Arts, the Association of American Publishers’,,, and, were served letters calling for an end to the publishing of classified listings for unpaid internships at for-profit businesses.

Collectively the six job boards channel thousands of unpaid workers to for-profit businesses in a variety of creative industries including the visual arts, publishing, theater, film, television and electronic media, without regard for the ethics or legality of such arrangements, thereby undermining the overall health and sustainability of the labor market within those industries.

The letters expand ongoing Arts & Labor #OWS efforts against unpaid internships at for-profit businesses. The initiative began on February 1, 2012 with a call to the New York Foundation for the Arts (NYFA) to end their practice of listing these illegal jobs.

Full Media Advisory
Letter to the New York Foundation for the Arts (Jobs in the Arts)
Letter to the Association of American Publishers (
Letter to
Letter to
Letter to
Letter to

May Day Arts Assembly II

This is the second May Day Arts Assembly, involving different arts groups and artists from within OWS, but also expanding collaborations beyond the OWS crowd. Everyone is welcome: artists, musicians, cultural workers, photographers, writers, dancers, filmmakers, interns, art handlers, designers, administrators, curators, assistants, and students. Join us!

The assembly is particularly focused on making sure everyone has the resources to support the projects they’re involved with.

WHEN: Saturday, April 7 at 2pm
WHERE: Union Square in Manhattan, NYC
Arts Assembly II on Facebook 

Join the May 1 Arts email list here.
To email May 1 Arts:

Previous Arts and Labor statement on the May Day Arts Assembly:

Arts & Labor, a working group founded in conjunction with the New York General Assembly for #occupywallstreet, echoes the call for an Arts Assembly of artists, musicians, cultural workers, photographers, writers, dancers, filmmakers, interns, art handlers, designers, administrators, curators, assistants, and students. JOIN US!

We gather to discuss May Day, to build solidarity and coordination between OWS arts groups, and to plan outreach efforts to those not already involved in May Day actions.

Arts & Labor is dedicated to exposing and rectifying economic inequalities and exploitative working conditions in our fields through direct action and educational initiatives. By forging coalitions, fighting for fair labor practices, and reimagining the structures and institutions that frame our work, Arts & Labor aims to achieve parity for every member of the 99%.

Report Back: At the Whitney Biennial Opening

Outside the VIP opening on February 28, the golden auction hammer threatens to crush a teamster. Photo: David Martinez.

Some members of Arts & Labor, Occupy Museums, Occupy Sotheby’s, and Arts & Culture, acting autonomously, paired with locked-out Sotheby’s art handlers from Teamsters Local 814 to bring their struggle to the Whitney Biennial, of which Sotheby’s is a major corporate sponsor. Many gathered outside the museum on the night of the VIP opening, February 28, for a loud demonstration denouncing Sotheby’s treatment of its workers. Signs including “Occupy Wall Street,” “Quit Sotheby’s” and “CULTURE Day 1 of Biennial + BARBARISM Day 210 of Local 814 Lock Out = Sotheby’s” were accompanied by a giant, inflatable fat cat and two giant, walking silver locks courtesy of Occupy Museums.

Two giant, walking locks from Occupy Museums arrive at the VIP opening. Photo: David Martinez.

The line of protestors, which also included supporters from other labor unions in the city, was visible from the main stairway and the fat cat loomed over the windows looking into the cocktail reception in the basement. Those waiting in the red-carpet VIP line seemed most amused by the chant: “Who are the V-I-Ps? Work-ers! Work-ers!”

After mic-checking the opening party on February 29, a Sotheby’s art handler explains the lockout and asks for support.

The following evening, February 29, brought an action less visible to those standing in line. Invited guests paired up with art handlers and union activists to take as their plus-ones. Smuggling their dates in, they got the locked-out Sotheby’s workers off the street and into the exclusive confines of the museum opening. Inside, the group convened on the fourth floor, which has been designated the performance area for the biennial and outfitted with bleachers facing an open, floor-through dance stage. After some smaller conversations, an assembly began with a mic check and banners were unfurled that read “Quit Sotheby’s” and “Occupy Wall Street.” Participants, sympathetic listeners, and surprised celebrants gathered around.

Participants gather in the assembly on the fourth floor as others look on from the bleachers off-frame during the February 29 opening.

The first to speak, a locked out art handler, stated: “I am from Sotheby’s. I have worked there for four years as an art handler. Sotheby’s is a major sponsor of the biennial and the poster child for anti-worker practices in the art world. Even though they made over $700 million dollars in [revenue; $171 million in profit] they are trying to destroy the lives of their art handlers and get rid of our union. We are not on strike. We have been forced out of our jobs and without paychecks for over seven months. Our families have no healthcare. This kind of oppressive greed should not be tolerated in the art world. By receiving support from Sotheby’s the Whitney is complicit in Sotheby’s war on workers. We are simply asking the Whitney museum to do the right thing: Stop doing business with Sotheby’s while the lockout is on. The Whitney takes money from the public–they have an obligation to support socially responsive practices in the art world. Whitney: Stop taking money and stop doing business with Sotheby’s until they end the lockout! Thank you.”

Then a speaker stood up to announce: “I have a statement from one of our great art writers and activists. Her name is Lucy Lippard. In an email today, she says: ‘I have been inspired by Occupy Wall Street and the Arts and Labor group just as I hope some of you have been inspired by our long past efforts in the Art Workers Coalition in the late ‘60s and Political Art Documentation Distribution in the early ‘80s and the Ad Hoc Women’s Art Committee, which set a precedent when we picketed outside and did actions inside the 1970 Whitney Annual. Santa Fe Occupy is pretty small but we’re in it together. Que Viva! –Lucy Lippard.’”

More statements of solidarity followed as a Biennial curator looked on from the stands. The final speaker declared, “as workers, as artists, as art workers . . . We love art. We love the people who make it. We love the people who come look at it. We love the museums who show it. We demand that there are fair practices. That workers are recognized no matter what they do. Thank you for coming to this exhibit. Thank you for remembering who it was who put it on the walls.”

After the end of the assembly the “Quit Sotheby’s” banner is left as a gift to the museum.

After the assembly concluded, the lovely rose-decorated “Quit Sotheby’s” banner was laid out on the floor and inscribed in the corners to read: “A gift to the Whitney Museum from Teamsters local 814, Arts & Labor, Occupy Museums / Not for sale.” It was still resting there when participants filed out at the end of the night.

For more photos of the February 28 demonstration, visit the Gothamist.

Teach-in with Gran Fury







Occupy Wall Street Arts & Labor Teach-In with Gran Fury
Friday, March 23, 7-9 PM
Einstein Auditorium, Barney Building,
34 Stuyvesant Street between Second and Third Avenues, NYU

What can the Occupy movement learn from the intersection of visual arts and direct action in groups like Gran Fury and ACT UP? To explore this question, please join Arts & Labor for a teach-in and discussion with members of Gran Fury, an art collective active from 1988 to 1995 that grew out of ACT UP (AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power).

Some of the questions that might emerge from this discussion include: How did ACT UP and Gran Fury target not only broader cultural attitudes about AIDS, but specific laws, regulations, and government policies, and did that require tactics different from those of OWS? How were specific targets (for instance, access to healthcare and the price of prescription drugs) part of a larger economic system? How did ACT UP and Gran Fury critique these systemic problems, and how can this critique be advanced today? How did a movement that began largely through the efforts of white, gay men deal with issues of diversity? How can activist groups build alliances and coalitions? How do we navigate the relation between a smaller affinity group and a larger social movement?

Central to our discussion is the question of how artists and art workers participate in social movements and how art, activism, and direct action functioned then and now.

About Gran Fury
Gran Fury originally formed as an affinity group to organize an exhibition on the AIDS crisis at the New Museum, “Let the Record Show. . .” (1987), and went on to create numerous media interventions in the form of posters, billboards, and public service announcements aired on television. They produced such visually striking graphics as “The Government Has Blood on Its Hands,” “Read My Lips,” “Kissing Doesn’t Kill,” and “Women Don’t Get AIDS (They Just Die From It).” An exhibition of their works is currently on view through March 17 at 80WSE, New York University. An online archive of their work is available from the New York Public Library at>.

For a brief summary of their history, see the interview with Douglas
Crimp here:

This event is part of an ongoing series of educational initiatives and direct actions organized by the Occupy Wall Street Arts & Labor group.



Arts & Labor participation in January actions at MoMA

On January 13th, 2012, OWS Arts & Labor stood in solidarity with locked-out Teamsters Local 814, and 16 Beaver in an action at the Museum of Modern Art, bottom-lined by Occupy Museums. Art handlers from Sotheby’s have been locked out since August 2011. Sotheby’s and MoMA share two board members, including Danny Meyer, who is also the CEO of the Union Square Hospitality group, a corporation that owns the three MoMA restaurants.

In the action, Danny Meyer’s restaurant Cafe 2 was mic-checked, and patrons were informed of the lockout of Teamsters Local 814, and Meyer’s involvement as a member of Sotheby’s board of directors.

1/27/2012. Art handlers from Teamsters Local 814, locked out from Sotheby's since August 1, 2011.

A General Assembly (GA) was held by members of all working and affinity groups in the atrium, and they invited museum patrons to participate. In the GA, the irony of MoMA staging an exhibition of the revolutionary painter Diego Rivera’s work, while being complicit in the Sotheby’s lockout of 43 Teamsters was critiqued. Patrons and employees of the museum were also informed of the history behind the so-called “Target Free Fridays,” how the admission free Friday was actually made possible through the efforts of the Art Workers’ Coalition, and their protests at MoMA in the 1970’s. Towards the end of the GA, a 30-foot banner was dropped from the 5th floor mezzanine, hanging down below the 4th, demanding that Sothbey’s end their lockout. The banner hung for a while until it was unilaterally acquired by MoMA security.

1/27/2012. The returned banner which was confiscated by MoMA security on the 1/13 action.

On January 27th, 2012, OWS Arts & Labor returned to MoMA with Occupy Museums and members of 16 Beaver to again stand in solidarity with Teamsters Local 814, some of who were present. A boisterous GA was again held in the atrium with speeches made by participants of Arts & Labor, Occupy Museums and Teamsters Local 814. A large, yellow Occupy Wall Street banner was unrolled and held horizontally across the gallery, dividing the space. The issue of the unilaterally acquired banner dropped on Jan 13th was addressed, and terms were stated as to what was required of MoMA, if they were to keep it. The terms were, that when the banner was displayed, it would be displayed with museum notes accurately describing how the work was acquired, that the Art Workers’ Coalition (AWC) be credited with “Free Fridays,” and that MoMA and Danny Meyer would come forward to demand Sotheby’s end their lockout.

Text reads: "MoMA, When Art is a Luxury - Art is a Lie. End your Lock Out." Banner courtesy Novads

The head of MoMA security, a fellow art worker, approached the GA, standing behind the unrolled banner, and politely let the GA know his job was to ensure the safety of museum guests and artworks in the museum. This was responded to with enthusiastic “twinkles” from the GA. He explained he would like to return our banner on behalf of the museum. He handed the rolled-up, confiscated banner, in a white plastic bag over the yellow banner. The terms were loud and clearly stated again; clarifying that its return meant that MoMA was turning its back on the locked-out Teamsters. The plastic bag was cut open and the banner was unrolled. The banner was spontaneously lifted at points by participating members and slowly marched out the gallery and down the museum steps, as if it were an extra long coffin. Spontaneous mic-checks erupted, and museum patrons clapped and cheered.

1/27/2012. Members of Arts & Labor and Occupy Museums leaving MoMA with the banner.

Members of OWS art coalitions and Occupy Sotheby’s continued to carry the banner through the lower lobby of MoMA and walked through the gift shop, startling and surprising browsing museum goers. The banner was eventually placed outside on the sidewalk. Casual conversations ensued and one of the artists of the banner began dripping red paint over the banner. Then, one of the members of the Novads, the art collective responsible for making the banner, asked the locked out Sotheby’s art handlers if they would like to cover their hands with red paint and “sign” the banner. The Teamsters covered their hands with paint as did members of Occupy Museums, Arts & Labor and 16 Beaver, placing their hands on top of the banner in a sign of solidarity and creativity. The action ended with a triumphant applause from OWS members and union participants; the artists of the banner finally carried it away, down 53rd street.

All photos by Leina Bocar.

May Day Arts Assembly!

Arts & Labor, a working group founded in conjunction with the New York General Assembly for #occupywallstreet, echoes the call for an Arts Assembly of artists, musicians, cultural workers, photographers, writers, dancers, filmmakers, interns, art handlers, designers, administrators, curators, assistants, and students. JOIN US!

WHEN: Sunday, March 25 at 2pm
WHERE: Occupy Town Square in Fort Greene Park, Brooklyn.

We gather to discuss May Day, to build solidarity and coordination between OWS arts groups, and to plan outreach efforts to those not already involved in May Day actions.

Arts & Labor is dedicated to exposing and rectifying economic inequalities and exploitative working conditions in our fields through direct action and educational initiatives. By forging coalitions, fighting for fair labor practices, and reimagining the structures and institutions that frame our work, Arts & Labor aims to achieve parity for every member of the 99%.

Arts Assembly on Facebook 
Occupy Town Square: Fort Greene Park

Occupy Town Square

Occupy Town Square

End the Whitney Biennial 2014

Dear Whitney Museum of American Art,

We are Arts & Labor, a working group founded in conjunction with the New York General Assembly for #occupywallstreet. We are artists and interns, writers and educators, art handlers and designers, administrators, curators, assistants, and students dedicated to exposing and rectifying economic inequalities and exploitative working conditions in our fields through direct action and educational initiatives. We are writing to call for an end to the Whitney Biennial in 2014.

Biennials were born in the nineteenth century, in an era when many nations were young and wished to showcase their greatest cultural products and achievements. The Whitney annuals grew out of this, championed by the patron and sculptor Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney, in a period when American art had little critical or financial support.

Much has changed since the founding of the Whitney Studio in 1914 and the advent of the current biennial format in 1973. The absorption of contemporary art into museums, the rise of a speculative art market, and the need for artists to obtain advanced degrees to participate in the current system have changed how art is produced and exhibited.

We object to the biennial in its current form because it upholds a system that benefits collectors, trustees, and corporations at the expense of art workers. The biennial perpetuates the myth that art functions like other professional careers and that selection and participation in the exhibition, for which artists themselves are not compensated, will secure a sustainable vocation. This fallacy encourages many young artists to incur debt from which they will never be free and supports a culture industry and financial and cultural institutions that profit from their labors and financial servitude.

The Whitney Museum, with its system of wealthy trustees and ties to the real estate industry perpetuates a model in which culture enhances the city and benefits the 1% of our society while driving others into financial distress. This is embodied both in the biennial’s sponsorship – represented most egregiously in its sponsorship by Sotheby’s, which has locked out its unionized art handlers – and the museum’s imminent move to the Meat Packing District, a neighborhood where artists once lived and worked which is now a gentrified tourist destination that serves the interests of the real estate industry.

We therefore call upon the Whitney in its centennial year to end the biennial and to support the interests of art workers over the capital interests of its trustees and corporate sponsors. As the Declaration of the Occupation of New York City states, “We come to you at a time when corporations, which place profit over people, self-interest over justice, and oppression over equality, run our governments.” Art institutions have come to mirror that ethos. We therefore call upon the Whitney to terminate its collusion with this system of injustice and use its resources to imagine sustainable models of creativity and culture that are accessible not just to Americans but to people around the globe.

Arts & Labor