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What Are We Worth?

We don’t generally value what we do in cash. Most of us have skills that would allow us to make a lot more money than we do if we used them in the most remunerative way. Most of us choose to make less money than we’re capable of making.

There are other rewards available to us besides cash. Being presented by certain venues or curated into certain series is a marker of success, as is being well-reviewed in certain publications or receiving certain grants and residencies. The respect of our peers, and even more so, the respect of the artists whose work we respect and/or whose work influences our own is another way we measure ourselves.

I’m particularly thinking about external measures. Most of us have internal artistic goals, and I imagine some of us aspire to stop there. But is that real?

I’m asking these questions in part because the barter project I’m working on,, requires us to value what we offer. That can get weird and uncomfortable, and we’re doing a lot of thinking about it, because we don’t think it has to be. I’d like to write some about that, but first I wanted to invite some conversation.

Since we don’t get paid, how do we know what we’re worth?

  • November 17th, 2010
  • Jen Abrams

It Seems We Like To Help Each Other

We did our first round of OurGoods live barter networks this weekend, and it was fascinating. What struck me the most strongly was how ready and willing everybody was to help everybody else.

(PSA: two more live barter networks next weekend. Info HERE.)

It seemed that the natural and universal response, when faced with a fellow artist who needed help, to help. I thought there would be people who needed convincing. After all, everyone’s time is limited, and ultimately that’s what we were trading in.

Although this was a barter market, not a gift circle – ie, everyone offering help was getting something in return – I don’t think the root of that willingness to help was self-serving. The room just didn’t have that vibe. Participants seemed genuinely invested in each others’ success.

I’ve been in environments with my peers that felt more competitive. It’s a reality that there aren’t enough grants or presenting venues or audience members to support and nurture the development of every artist in NYC who is making solid work. And since we get “paid” in reputation/regard rather than in money, we can tend toward looking at each other sideways to see how we measure up to whoever else is in the room. Not everyone does this, but it’s common.

In a barter economy, we are not defined by scarcity of funding or regard. (Scarcity of time is an issue.) Unlike the curator of a presenting venue, I’m not limited in how many artists I can support.

This thing I saw at the barter networks – people who didn’t previously know each other investing themselves in removing obstacles to each others’ success – is certainly not exclusive to those events. I’m always struck, though, at how much I prefer that way of being to the weird world of competing with my peers for scarce resources. I’m always struck by how much I like being in a space that is overtly defined by investment in each other’s success.

This isn’t woo-woo for me. It’s not all about love and flow and good karma. It’s very concrete. I’m thinking about that right now, and how it works. Hopefully I’ll be able to say something intelligent about that before the end of the month.

  • November 8th, 2010
  • Jen Abrams

The Elegant Negotiable

I have to lead off by reminding you about the OurGoods live barter events that are coming up. OurGoods is a barter network for creative people where you can get support for your work in a community that runs on mutual respect. The events are November 6, 7, 13 and 14, and you can find out more HERE.

The Elegant Negotiable

I learned about the idea of the elegant negotiable HERE. Here’s their definition:

Your elegant negotiables are…[things that are] easy for you to give away but are [highly] valued by the other person.

Time and money are scarce for most artists. We hear that a lot, and we live it. We also hear and talk about our struggle to balance getting satisfaction out of our lives with managing our time and making money.

Usually, we trade either time or money for more satisfaction. That’s the model of the dominant economy. The elegant negotiable is intriguing to me because it offers a way to increase our time/money by getting more satisfaction. The price of admission for this alchemical fabulosity is relationships. And, more specifically, barter.

(The original thinkers behind the elegant negotiable were all about getting more value for your money, but I’m going to go ahead and subvert their intentions here. Hope you don’t mind.)

Here’s an elegant negotiable I’m experiencing right now: Esther and I are bartering. She wants to learn carpentry skills. I want to learn how to can local produce. I love doing carpentry, and in teaching Esther skills, we’re going to build something I needed to build anyway. Esther loves to can. She’d probably be canning whether I was there to teach or not. Both of us are offering something that is easy to offer, and both of us are getting something we find very valuable.

Both of us are increasing the satisfaction in our lives without spending money, or spending time doing something unsatisfying in order to earn money. That’s the magic of the elegant negotiable, as I have subverted it.

I’ve been using this kind of exchange to “fund” my artistic work for about eleven years now. I barter for light design, house management, graphic design, costume design and construction, marketing services, rehearsal space, board ops – virtually every aspect of producing a show. I don’t see barter as ever replacing the cash economy, but I do see it as a way for me to move through the cash economy with more life satisfaction.

(I found Ester on, which is live and open to the public. See how I brought that back around?)

  • November 4th, 2010
  • Jen Abrams and Upcoming Resource-Sharing Event

For the last two years, I’ve been working on OurGoods, a barter network for creative people. After a lot of hard work, we went live last week! You can see what we’re all about at We created it to be a place where independent artists, including dancemakers, could find help and resources to get their projects done without cash.

I’ll be blogging this month about resource-sharing as a model for getting our work done, as well as about questions of how we value our work and how that relates to the larger economy.

For starters, though, I’d like to invite you to a Movement Research-sponsored event:

Live Barter Network and Barter Workshop

Nov 6 2010
Dance Theater Workshop
RSVP is required! Click HERE to RSVP

We’ll help you organize your NEEDS and HAVES, connect you to potential barter matches, and offer tips for successful bartering.

This event is sponsored by
The Field
as part of The Field’s ERPA Open Source Series

And is co-sponsored by
Dance Theater Workshop
Movement Research

3pm Barter: a Budget Supplement
When you take money out of the equation, what issues come up? How does one create a successful barter relationship?

4pm Live Barter Network
We’ll help you organize your NEEDS and HAVES, connect you to potential barter matches, and offer tips for successful bartering.

at Dance Theater Workshop
219 W 19th St
A/C/E to 14th St, 1 to 18th St

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