Art Workers Italia: “Our goal is to safeguard the contemporary art professionals’ rights”

An informal research and action group has been created during the lockdown days to demand recognition and legal protection for contemporary art workers. The interview.

AWI Art Workers Italia - domus

In facing a new scenario of crisis, the rise of a generation that is already living their second “once-in-a generation” crisis, we get aware of  how radical can be the changes that such scenario is already bringing  to our structures: aware of what happened during lockdown to our ways of  dwelling, aware of an urge for many individuals, networks and collectivities to take a new position towards what has been their social, political, economic visibility so far. Art world has been one of  the first to question and actively challenge its condition — through different strategies —after being heavily struck by Covid-related global crisis. During Italian lockdown days, a first gathering of unrestful exchanges has then given birth to AWI — Art Workers Italia, an informal group that debuted in the public discourse last 1st of May, aiming to promote an ethical reframing of  Italian art world as a world based on labor. 

Could you find a couple of sentences to outline the AWI claim in both a long and short term perspective, and the uniqueness of its position within the Italian discourse?
Despite the evident educational and social relevance of their job for the whole community, despite the key role they play in so many cultural projects, events, exhibitions and public programs, the first great hurdle we face is the very condition of “invisibility” of contemporary art workers. That is why, the main goals of Art Workers Italia are the legal recognition of every profession that feeds the sector, the regulation of sound employment relationships and the fair redistribution of resources, which entails a systemic reform and a structural rethinking of the entire sector. AWI is of course inspired by movements that had similar claims in the recent past, with the peculiarity of having an inclusive and horizontal structure as an informal and non-partisan group. We now feel the urgent need to collect these previous experiences and carry them forward in dialogue with “kindred soul” realities in Italy and abroad.

AWI Art Workers Italia - press - domus

Do you think that any recognition of rights will come from a recognition of some collective identity of you  as a category? Are you envisioning some legal form for such recognition?
The legal form that AWI may eventually take is under discussion. But this possible reshaping will not change its paramount concerns or ethical principles. We do not want to voice a single professional category (artist or curator, museum educators or art writers etc.) We are rather committed to design and implement ethical, political, legal and contractual tools for the protection of all art operators in order to create together a more righteous system.

Are you considering any perspective of professional intersectionality, opening to a broader base of cultural/creative labor that has equally been living through a harsh decade?
AWI was born to primarily safeguard the contemporary art professionals’ rights, as an initial "frame". However, as part of a much broader, complex and multifaceted system, we are aware that our struggle is to be extended to other realities, some of whom are currently collaborating with us, above all with an informative aim and a mutual training support (among others, ACTA - the freelancers' association and Smart - Mutual Society for Artists). AWI is a motley crew of subjectivities who practice many different activities, bound together by a common purpose. At this end, new tools must be available, in Italy as well, to acknowledge and protect the rights and duties of those who operate within the contemporary art field – not only artists or curators, but also journalists, designers, architects and all those figures who actually contribute to its very existence.

Moving to action: what fronts and actions you have been most engaged on, so far?
In these months of research, we have been examining the main problems of our sector, attempting to suggest some faisable contextual solutions to the crisis, drawing up a programmatic manifesto and a list of proposals which we sent by letter to the Minister of Culture Dario Franceschini. We then co-coordinated the panel ‘ Working in the Arts: if normality was the problem’  at the Forum dell’Arte contemporanea. We are also drafting a contemporary art’s ethical chart, in order to define the needed operational changes for an alternative system, based on sustainability and dignity of work.

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