What can co-ops do for artists? Why are there not more co-ops? What is the role of co-ops in combating social disadvantage? CDI Executive Director Noémi Giszpenc discussed all these questions and more with the “Everything Cooperative” radio show host, Vernon Oakes, last month.
“Artist” co-ops, like “farmer” co-ops, can actually be any type of co-op–a purchasing co-op to source materials, a shared services co-op to organize gigs, a marketing co-op that runs a gallery, or even a worker co-op that sells graphic design or musical performance. Artists also form housing co-ops and join consumer food co-ops. There are three ways that co-ops can help artists (or anyone): to pursue their passion, earn a living, and live their life. Noémi’s favorite way that co-ops benefit artists is that many worker co-ops allow members to earn a living and still have time and energy to pursue their passion. Some examples include Caracol Interpreters Co-op whose members include filmmakers and reiki practitioners, and Tightshift Laboring Co-op whose members include musicians and singers. You might not have thought that hiring a cleaning co-op meant supporting artists, but it’s true.
The vision CDI is pursuing is to support the formation of new types of cooperatives that support artists. We’d like to see income smoothing, or event insurance or workers’ comp insurance. We are starting to see a possibility for a network of support professionals, organized as a consortium of service providers that give member artists influence and control. Taking good care of artists and artisans has important benefits not just for quality of life, but for dynamic economic development.
Ever since the “Everything Cooperative” show started, Vernon has been asking “Why are there not more co-ops?” One answer is that they’re hard work. And they require cooperation, which we’re not always skillful at! Many people believe that “if you want something done right, do it yourself.” The cooperative spirit is more along the lines of “we can do more together than on our own.” One way to understand both these ideas at once is to realize that “if you want to go fast, go alone; if you want to go far, go together.”
Co-ops can provide a lot of benefit. This is especially clear when you think that a non-co-op business might go straight for more profit and cut corners when it comes to the well-being of customers or workers, while a co-op puts that well-being first and uses profit to survive. The “free market” doesn’t serve socially-disadvantaged people so well because regular businesses may take advantage of people’s limited choices and exploit them. For people in this situation, co-ops are even more important.
Co-ops are hard work, but they’re worth it, and there are resources out there to help you do it.
For more on co-ops for artists, see Noémi’s interview on Dope Stuff Live With Misty & Malik.