ON CONSOLIDATED MUTUAL AID

We're now offering discounted sessions for individuals and groups. Also some words on the state of the creative economy.

ON CONSOLIDATED MUTUAL AID
The covers of Sigmund Freud's Civilization and Its Discontents (W.W. Norton, 2010) and Jamieson Webster’s Disorganisation & Sex (Divided Publishing, 2022), the amuse-bouche of our new reading and study group, REGROUP.

024 — Working together to solve the world’s problems. Being horny together. Solving the world’s problems with horniness, together.

DISPASSION is a newsletter about art, digital media, and emotional detachment produced by ‌NOR RESEARCH STUDIO.


QUICKIES

DISPASSION.FYI

We have a fancy new web address. Things are starting to feel official.

REGROUP

We’re launching a reading group! REGROUP meets once a month with occasional intermissions. This season, aptly titled WHO IS MY MOUTH AND WHY DOES SHE MATTER TO ME?, we’re reading Jamieson Webster’s Disorganisation & Sex (Divided Publishing, 2022) and discussing how our oral fixations govern our artistic decision-making. To that end, we’ll use Webster’s text to investigate how the structures of the mouth — like the teeth, jaw, tongue, and throat — can become instruments for creative output. Attendance is free, but interested parties should RSVP because we’ll be capping attendees at around 40-50 participants.

DISCOUNTED CLINICS

We don’t believe the hype about the economy and recognize that independent workers are particularly affected by market contractions. To that end, we’re offering discounted working sessions. For now, we’ll be reserving a few hours every Thursday for clinicals, which can be booked as individual sessions. Alternatively, collaborators can book group sessions Monday through Saturday.

INDIVIDUAL SESSIONS
$30 for 45 minutes of brainstorming, editorial, business management, and fundraising support.

GROUP SESSIONS
$200 for 90 minutes of brainstorming, editorial, business management, and fundraising support split by 2 or more people.

If you have questions, please send us an email at studio@nor.la

TEAMING UP WITH NAVEL

NAVEL’s DLTA programming space.

Starting in late January, we’ll be hosting a series of online, IRL, and hybrid workshops with our neighbor down the street, NAVEL.

If you’re unfamiliar, NAVEL is a nonprofit organization located in Los Angeles that supports artists and cultural workers. We’ll be working with NAVEL for the next few months to develop infrastructure and programming that provides professional development resources for creatives, especially those trying to divest from traditional employment models and derive income from their independent practice.

You can find a list of our current workshops and events with NAVEL as well as tickets and more information here.

To kick things off, we’re offering our HOW TO COMMUNICATE IN WHITE PEOPLE grant workshops. In those sessions, we’ll unpack what grants are, how to get them, and walk through a number of strategies that make the best of the labor-intensive application process. Most importantly, we’ve priced the workshops so that participants of various financial backgrounds can participate.

Alongside those sessions, we’ll return to NAVEL for another workshop series, THE FIRST $5,000, which guides participants through the process of making their first $5,000 as an independent contractor. Comparing the process of applying for grants with earned income models, we’ll examine how grants are at best backup plans that can transform into supplementary income — unless you integrate them into your broader business strategy.

If you’re interested in working with us to develop programming, please get in touch.

UPCOMING EVENTS

Thursday, February 1
HOW TO COMMUNICATE IN WHITE PEOPLE
STRATEGY SESSION


These 90-minute sessions will provide a broad overview of what grants are and how to apply for them. We’ll share our research strategy, show some sample grants and budget documents, and close with some examples of how to integrate your proposals and your online portfolio.

There are three different times available on February 1 for this session. Tickets start at $25.

10am - 11am
Reserve your tickets

2pm - 3:30pm
Reserve your tickets

6pm - 7:30pm
Reserve your tickets


Friday, February 2
HOW TO COMMUNICATE IN WHITE PEOPLE
EDITORIAL + CREATIVE CAPITAL SESSION


In this two-hour workshop that focuses on writing and editing grants, participants will be asked to bring a sample question from a grant they are interested in applying for, along with a provisional answer to that question, which we will discuss as a group.

Using the Creative Capital grant application as an example, we will review and analyze a handful of funded projects before writing our own log lines, short (250 words) and long summaries (500 words), and personal statements.

The session will end with some strategies for transforming individual grant applications into reusable materials.

There are two different times available on February 2 for this session. Tickets start at $90.

10am - noon
Reserve your tickets

2pm - 4pm
Reserve your tickets


THE BEST OF WORSE TIMES

Some background on our decision to offer clinicals and group sessions.

2024 is off to an odd start. While we’re excited to announce new programming and partnerships, we’d be remiss if we ignored the feedback we’re routinely receiving from clients, collaborators, and colleagues about the enshitification of their work life. Here in Los Angeles, where many businesses are still recovering from revenue loss related to the writers’ strike, we’re feeling it too.

Even in the news, there is a growing sense that the economy remains in a worse state than economists are willing to let on. Despite claims that inflation has slowed, wages are up, and employment is steady, what we see in our daily rounds does not bode particularly well for the creative class. For one, the cost of basic goods, especially groceries, continues to climb. And for those working in the creative industries, economic measures like employment don’t illuminate much about the gig economy, financial trends affecting self-employed workers and professionals, nor do they paint an accurate picture about the dismal state of charitable giving that has traditionally powered many cultural organizations. If you subscribe to newsletters from nonprofit cultural organizations, you may have noticed that many fell short of their funding goals — some falling nearly $100,000 behind their projections and pushing their fundraising into the New Year.

With all this less-than-inspiring information in place, it’s important to remember that these are the same cultural organizations whose commissions, grants, and contract projects fund much of the creative economy — an already far from ideal arrangement. Add that financial dependence to the already massive wage gaps which can exist within a single institution and you have an implosion in the making. Figureheads with decision-making power and budgetary control are unlikely to reduce their pay let alone admit that their role may be unnecessary. In the end, this leaves vital yet vulnerable workers in the lurch.

Given the economic shakeup, what can we do to add stability to our lives and build out infrastructure that will support us in the future? We believe the answer lies in mutual aid and partnerships, specifically focusing on a type of collaborative economic partnership we’ve coined “consolidated mutual aid.”

AN INTERLUDE ABOUT WORK

The main point of consolidated mutual aid is to reduce our collective dependency on large companies and flagship institutions, especially the hierarchical employment models they offer. (If you’re unfamiliar with the Master-Servant Doctrine that governs most employment relationships in the US, it’s a good time to become familiar.) As it stands, the economy has started to splinter at a few notable junctures, and the practices located at these forks have much to do with how we describe, value, and regulate labor.

On the one hand, there is the traditional employment model that suggests that people should educate themselves, develop skills, and then find an employer who will fairly compensate them in exchange for their time, labor, and loyalty. Aside from outright abuses of this relationship, employees usually receive a marginal percentage of profits and little if any equity. There is also the student loan debt crisis that this employment model and its empty promises helped foment.

In the employment exchange, employees essentially receive temporary security by giving up the financial consequences of their actions within the company. When the company does well, the owners and managers reap the benefit, paying employees static wages and keeping the surplus. If things go sour, the employer is the responsible party. But that doesn’t prevent them from offsetting their losses by, for example, replacing their employees with cheaper labor — which these days they are wont to accomplish through automation. If automation isn’t enough, large companies can force their employees to become dependent on them by, say, controlling their housing. In this arrangement, employees are treated as malleable consumers rather than autonomous workers.

On the other hand, skilled workers have the opportunity to build businesses of their own and retain a majority of its profits. But this is a relatively recent development and has a number of complications related to class, gender, sex, and race. Until the 1970s and 1980s, when business structures like limited liability corporations were introduced, which meant that individuals could form small businesses with some of the advantages and protections afforded to large corporations, only the ultra wealthy could benefit from forming a company. The bootstrap ideology common among entrepreneurs has some of its roots in these changes, but as workers living in the era of real-prices Uber, we have tangible evidence that going solo is not the solution to economic woes. Unfortunately, government support of small business has not kept pace with technology. As a result, we have a tax system that broadly conflates maintaining a small business with having wealth or easy access to it. Freelancers recall this injustice every April, when they pay taxes usually split with or delegated to employers. Instead of receiving a tax break for being self-motivated, independent, and entrepreneurial, they’re treated like they have reserves of disposable income.

To make matters worse, while there are employment opportunities within the creative industries, they’re highly sought after and competitive. Talent and know-how only go so far in economy where relationships to power are considered the coin of the realm. And there is where the second praxis attached to consolidated mutual aid finds its value: power can be created and conditioned through investments and networks, especially networked investments. In other words, we need people to build and structure value together, but that requires shared risk and compromise. More importantly, consolidated mutual aid means understanding that slow growth and infrastructural development is unlikely to be immediately profitable, which makes sense because the goal is profitability over time — otherwise known as sustainability. To engineer that sustainability, we need more ubiquitous and twice as nimble equity structures. We need to bring back entities that are collectively if not publicly owned and which are meant to disband after a specified amount of time has passed or when they have completed their purpose. In lieu of disbanding, these entities need to be flexible enough to find new, more equitable use over time, but transformative potential must be baked into their design. Otherwise, they’ll suck up resources, become bloated, then collapse, reducing their value to nil.

WHAT CONSOLIDATED MUTUAL AID IS NOT

These points about employment may seem tedious, but without the synopsis of work life in the US in place, it’s difficult to see exactly why something like consolidated mutual aid would be revolutionary. To put it simply, we’re arguing that artists benefit from acting like businesses, that much business activity is about accruing resources that gain value over time, and that relationships create, shape, and hold value.

But let’s rewind and look at one far-reaching mythology about creative work, that getting a teaching job in an MFA or similar arts education program can lead to a sustainable career, and its destructive effects. In terms of structure, the MFA program is not compatible with consolidated mutual aid. The reasons why are several and worth considering.

First, what your instructors in the MFA program failed to tell you is that working conditions there are dreadful. Even if they have gallery representation or an agent, many haven’t sold work for a spell. (FYI, the real sign of independent success is hiring a manager.) Or, because they’ve conjoined the value of their work to their position in the program, they have no capital outside its halls. So how could any of these people give career advice?

When you view these MFA workplace environments from an external position, it’s hard to miss how much time is spent begging for resources — especially the time spent enacting performative displays that indicate one is worthy enough to beg for resources in the first place. Because they abet bad investments, such deluding behaviors are not permitted within consolidated mutual aid. They turn potential collaborators against each other. They normalize feelings of insecurity. But most importantly, they spread disinformation, and disinformation kills relationships.

From there, while some programs offer professional development courses, most refrain from including material that would make obvious how much of a scam graduate programs can be. Moreover, unless they have instructors who’ve developed business savvy outside the institution, how can they filter out quacks and vanity operations fueled by trust funds? And while there are instructors who practice pay transparency and dissuade students from, for instance, applying to programs that do not guarantee funding or provide unequivocal professional development training, others do not consider it an aspect of their low-wage but time-consuming job to talk money.

Because the faculty-student bond is built on a financial exchange with a high degree of intimacy, we believe skipping over the facts and figures of creative work is an act of emotional betrayal. Such emotional betrayal, which arises from and is related to disinformation, is not permissible within consolidated mutual aid. Healthy relationships are the substance of networked investments. If disinformation kills relationships, it follows that disinformation kills investments.

Let that set in.

As stated above, many teaching in these programs either become entirely dependent on the institution to maintain their lifestyle. Worse, if they are aware of and resist the institutional groupthink, they are identified as a threat that must be quickly and quietly scapegoated before the illusion of meritocracy and equity shatters. Any attempt to construct or maintain codependence is not permissible within consolidated mutual aid. Neither is scapegoating or the delusions it manifests. Nor are any attempts to block or diminish acuity. All of these behaviors promote disinformation and defer to feelings over factual, experienced reality.

Sure, there are tepid conversations about grants, advances, commissions, and contract jobs in some art programs, but none of those dialogues offer much accountability. Especially when your grossly underpaid instructors remain in toxic, rank-and-file organizations because they fear they won’t employment elsewhere — a phenomena practically designed into many of these institutions.

Becoming a sitting duck is bad business. And the thing about bad business decisions is that their financial ramifications always slice in one direction before all others: toward your bank account. Slow-motion financial suicide is also not permissible within consolidated mutual aid. All decisions must reconcile bottom-line resource needs. And to be clear, such reconciliation doesn’t mean you can’t take on justifiable debt to buy, say, necessary equipment. It means you cannot bankrupt yourself or the people around you for the sake of opportunity that all evidence suggests will never manifest.

Taken in sum, consolidated mutual aid rejects all forms of financial sabotage, which it considers economic abuse.

WHERE DO WE GO FROM HERE?

In the previous creative economy where teaching gigs were touted as a means to keep the studio open, no one bothered to fess up to the fact that everyone was working in silos and competing for attention — not developing an actual career but something that resembled a bureaucratic foot stool for others to step on and over. People claiming to work in the realm of the imagination chose the least imaginative route possible to sustain themselves, allowing the student debt crisis to further swelter long after its negative effects were known. Instead of divesting, instead of building something else, these individuals took the institutional welcoming message — YOU HAVE BEEN ACCEPTED — at face value. No hard feelings, beloveds, these are just the facts. We were duped. Let’s embrace this tragedy. It’s the foundational wound that consolidated mutual aid attempts to redress.

As part of this reform, we have much rebuilding to do with limited resources — which is a fundamental starting point for consolidated mutual aid just as much as one of its design principles. Perfect. We’ll have more to say about consolidated mutual in future newsletters, but for now let’s focus on our attention on two basic concepts.

(1) Small, nimble groups can accrue considerable amounts of power, know-how, resources, and notoriety simply by being more than one but less than too many. This is done by reducing a broader set of individual issues to one common focus and collectively seeking remedies that benefit all involved parties in predetermined ways. Yes, things need to be in writing. Yes, you should plan for divorce and dissociation. Yes, you should expect time to pass before the fruits of your labor bloom. If worst-case planning isn’t in your toolkit already, it’s time to catch up. Lastly, you cannot and should not attempt to save anyone. Rescue is not an option.

(2) Investments require resources and structure that transmutes those resources into gains over time. The more resources you start with, the more you’re able to harvest — a luxury consolidated mutual aid recognizes but must operate without. To make anything with limited resources, you must have a clear sense of your current inventory, including cash. Unfortunately, conversations about money tend to make people clam up and become defensive, which means that groups rarely experiment with low-risk or progressively staged investments. But in business as in art, you have to play to win. If you’ve been avoiding the game while still activating participating in it (e.g. consumer capitalism), you’re likely in a less than ideal position. To remedy that situation, you need to start looking at yourself as an asset with considerable value. No, you’re not a commodity, but you can be — you do, after all, exist among and through them. You also belong to a group. In fact, several groups. Sure, networking is a gross word, and yet so many of us have yet to delete our inactive Facebooks. All of which is to say your inventory must include an audit of your spending habits and spending power. We need the clearest sense of our position, and that means pointing a finger at ourselves and asking some uncomfortable questions. Namely, how on earth did I get into my particular economic slump? What has convinced me to remain tucked here with my head down while all around me my peers and colleagues clearly suffer the same deprivation? And what will it take for me to change?


RESOURCES

← The Content Technologist on Productization and Templates
← Creative Capital Art Grant Budget Guide
← Creative Capital Opportunities Listings
← Filip Magazine
← Holo Magazine
← Hyperallergic Opportunities Listings
← Rhizome Net Anthology

JOB LISTINGS

← Arts for Los Angeles Job Listing
← New York Foundation for the Arts Job Listing


— FIN —

WYATT CODAY is intersex and autistic. She lives between Los Angeles and Chicago, where she is a practicing financial dominatrix. She is the director of NOR RESEARCH STUDIO.

NOT ADVICE is a column about business decisions that is strictly and emphatically not advice. Instead, we journal about investing time, energy, and money into our creative practice along with commentary about how these decisions changed our relationship to working and not working.

NOR RESEARCH STUDIO is a design research studio that develops didactic media, exhibitions, publications, and other forms of intellectual property for artists, nonprofits, and creative businesses.

studio@nor.la
nor.la
@nor_research_studio