Letter to artists, gallerists, fair workers, and attendees of Frieze New York Art Fair


To artists, gallerists, workers, and fairgoers attending Frieze New York:

For the second year in a row, Frieze and its subcontractor Production Glue have hired low-wage, non-unionized workers to construct their fair, bringing in people from as far away as Wisconsin. This breaks with the industry standard: the major New York City art fairs including the Armory and the ADAA, as well as many other cultural and business expositions, employ unionized workers to construct and run their shows.

Frieze is a for-profit private event that takes over a municipal public park for two months to serve a global clientele of wealthy art collectors. The fair pays less than $1 per square foot to lease the land from the city. With a ticket price of $42 per day, Frieze is inaccessible to many working New Yorkers. However, despite the cheap rent and high admission prices to an event that generates millions of dollars in art sales, Frieze claims it cannot afford to pay decent wages to local workers.

Labor organizations including Teamsters Joint Council 16, NYC Central Labor Council, IATSE Local 829, IATSE Local 1, NYC District Council of Carpenters, and District Council 9 have all called on Frieze to employ their union members and guarantee local workers a fair, living wage with benefits. This demand has been repeated by City Councilwoman Melissa Mark-Viverito (representing Randall’s Island), as well as City Councilmembers Jessica Lappin and Mark Weprin and U.S. Representative Carolyn B. Maloney (D-NY12). As Weprin said recently, “Frieze NY Art Fair, or any private business that chooses to use public parks, should hire local New York workers and adhere to fair labor standards.”

If you are an artist or gallerist showing at the fair:

  • We ask you to refuse to serve as a fig leaf for exploitation. We ask you to decline to lend artistic cachet to an event that does not support New Yorkers, and that desperately needs the stamp of cultural seriousness to justify itself to the public.

  • Even if you cannot withdraw from the fair at this point, we ask you to consider speaking out publicly against Frieze’s unfair labor practices by making information about this issue available at your booth. We would be glad to provide you with a sign and/or flyers you can display.

  • We also urge you to tell Frieze organizers that you are an artist or represent artists in the exhibition and that you support organized labor.

If you are attending or work at the fair: Urge everyone you know to contact Frieze to demand they engage in fair labor practices, and consider not attending the fair until Frieze agrees.

It takes courage to speak the truth when many wish to deny it, but rest assured that should you decide to stand up and speak out, you will not be alone.

The arts are an economic engine for New York, bringing millions of people and billions of dollars to the city each year. Yet each year, more jobs become unpaid internships, artists are denied payment for their labor, real wages go down, and benefits are lost; meanwhile, the city becomes more expensive and the distribution of wealth more unequal. We believe in the importance of holding institutions such as Frieze accountable for their impact on New York and the people who live and work here. We want to see art bloom across our city, but we know there is a better, fairer way to foster this growth.

Arts & Labor

To contact Frieze:

Frieze New York Office
41 Union Square West, Suite 1623 New York, NY 10003
+1 212 463 7488
Enquiries: +1-646-9188598/ +1-646-9188078

Assistant to Director Amanda Sharp
Renee Browne
+1 212 463 7488

Frieze London Office
1 Montclare Street London  E2 7EU, UK
+44 (0)20 3372 6111

#FF #FNY13 #FriezeRatFair

For more information on this struggle, see:

Arts & Labor, “NYC Labor Leaders Demand that Frieze NY Art Fair Hire Local and Union,” http://artsandlabor.org/frieze/

Mostafa Heddaya, “Labor Issues in Spotlight as Frieze NY Prepares for May Art Fair,” http://hyperallergic.com/69137/labor-issues-in-spotlight-as-frieze-ny-prepares-for-may-art-fair/

Whitney Kimball, “Unions, City Council, Congresswoman Protest Frieze,” http://artfcity.com/2013/04/19/unions-city-council-congresswoman-protest-frieze/

Rozalia Jovanovic, “New York Union Members Speak Out at City Hall Against Frieze’s Labor Policies,” http://www.blouinartinfo.com/news/story/892257/new-york-union-members-speak-out-at-city-hall-against-friezes



9 thoughts on “Letter to artists, gallerists, fair workers, and attendees of Frieze New York Art Fair

  1. Union membership has fallen to a record low yet again. Just over 1 in 10 workers are in a traditional union. If you look at private sector workers only, the number is just 6.6 percent.

    Love them or hate them, in the 19th and 20th centuries labor unions helped establish a middle class, ensured professional standards for some industries, and secured access for all workers to benefits like the weekend, the minimum wage, the 8-hour day, and maternity leave. They also helped workers learn, share information, and turn out the vote.

    That was then. Now, bargaining agreements don’t make sense for workers who are self-employed, work on contract, are entrepreneurs, or change jobs frequently–the average job tenure has fallen to 4.4 years. And traditional unions, to put it bluntly, are no longer associated with excellence in the workforce. Rules that dictate exactly how, where, and when workers can do their jobs don’t fit the age of flexible hours, global markets, ever-changing job roles, and telecommuting, either for employers or employees. In increasingly flat hierarchies and team-based work, even the basic division between “labor” and “management” doesn’t make a lot of sense in many contexts. -A.K.

    Become relevant again and folks will care and take up your cause.

    • Hi Joe,

      It’s true that the labor unions helped to establish a middle class and ensured full time workers many of the benefits you outlined. However, one could argue that it’s the erosion of strong unions and worker solidarity that has allowed a myriad of workplace abuses to a occur. Along with the move to temporary and contract work related exploitation of labor has taken place. A power imbalance has occurred where employers are free to exploit labor by hiring long term freelance and temporary workers in place of salaried or full-time employees to avoid many of the middle class benefits you mentioned, misclassifying employees as contractors, etc. It’s true that traditional style workplace-specific organizing doesn’t always make sense for certain types of contract and freelance workers, but those workers would still be better served if they are able to band together collectively to bargain for fair rights and compensation. What those models could end up being is something worth investigating, because the current situation for most workers, including (and often especially) contract and freelance workers serves to undermine worker rights and stability in favor of employer profit.

      “In increasingly flat hierarchies and team-based work, even the basic division between “labor” and “management” doesn’t make a lot of sense in many contexts.” I would be very interested in hearing more about this paradigm shift, and within what industries you have seen this flat hierarchal structure, because I’ve yet to come across it.

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