Building Trades

Labor-Artist Alliance Thaws Out Frieze Fest

April 28, 2014
By Joe Maniscalco

A new day has dawned at the Frieze Art Fest.

A new day has dawned at the Frieze Art Fest.

New York, NY – For the first time ever, union hammers will be helping to assemble the Frieze Art Fest when it returns to Randall's Island in May – and the special alliance between organized labor and supportive artists is largely the reason behind the dramatic turnaround.

Labor-friendly artists involved in last year’s exhibition shocked festival organizers when they spoke out against Frieze’s union-avoiding policies in the middle of the high-profile show and even incorporated pro-labor messages in their work. 

The artists later threatened to skip this year’s edition of the art festival all together if organizers of the event taking place May 9-12, did not open up a dialogue with organized labor. Leading artists subsequently took to Twitter in an online organizing effort aimed at pushing Frieze to change its ways.

The details of the new deal between the Frieze Art Fest and organized labor are still being worked out, but a limited level of union participation has been confirmed, and George Miranda, president of Teamsters Joint Council No.16 says that he is now looking forward to a “long-lasting relationship" with Frieze. 

“This agreement guarantees that Frieze will be built union and provide good jobs that benefit our city,” Miranda said. 

Andrea Bowers, one of the artists who was instrumental in mounting the protest at last year’s show, is calling the new agreement between organized labor and Frieze “a success.” 

“I’m thrilled, and I’m really impressed with all of the parties involved,” Bowers said. “It's more than I could have imagined, and it happened faster than I ever thought it could.”

Union participation in this year’s Frieze Art Fest will be limited because organizers had reportedly already entered into prior-agreements to put the show together, but it is believed that those levels will increase next year with the ultimate goal of full unionization. 

“We're very pleased with the agreement that we've reached [with the unions] and we're committed to making the best local contribution,” Belinda Bowring, head of Frieze’s public relations team, told LaborPress. 

Frieze Art Fest organizers had earlier complained that paying area standards wages and benefits was too expensive, and refused to even speak to representatives from Joint Council, No. 16, NYC District Council of Carpenters and I.A.T.S.E Local 829. 

That position did not sit well with pro-labor artists and activists like Bowers. 

“I think that the secret [to success] is reaching out the specific communities that are involved, and not seeing labor as this big entity that we can't access or collaborate with, but to see ourselves in solidarity with the unions,” Bowers said. “And I think that’s what  is needed on both sides.”

Protest outside last year's Frieze Fest.

Protest outside last year’s Frieze Fest.

Miranda said that the alliance with the artists community has been “instrumental” in promoting organized labor, and that he expects  to work with them on building a “more just, and more beautiful New York.”

“They were in our corner all the way,” Miranda added. “More and more, we have been able to partner with the artist community — including Arts & Labor and Andrea Bowers — to improve working conditions in this sector – from Sotheby's to Frieze.”

Bowers, who is gearing up for a four-month residency in Paris, France, and will not be attending this year’s Frieze Art Fest on Randall’s Island, said her experience partnering with organized labor on behalf of working men and women, has been invigorating.

“The way that the Teamsters embraced my participation was so hopeful and rewarding for me,” Bowers said. “It gives me courage and confidence to do this again in the future.”

April 28, 2014

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