The Art Workers’ Coalition was an organization of artists formed in 1969 to demand artists’ rights, museum reform, representation of women and artists of color in museums, and for museums to take a moral stance on the Vietnam War. As we consider artists’ stake in the current Occupy Wall Street movements, the Art Workers’ Coalition provides necessary historical context. Copied below is the Art Workers’ Coalition’s Statement of Demands made in November 1970 in New York City. How relevant are these demands today? What would you change? What new demands are necessary?
WITH REGARDS TO ART MUSEUMS IN GENERAL THE ART WORKERS’ COALITION MAKES THE FOLLOWING DEMANDS:
1. The Board of Trustees of all museums should be made up of one-third museum staff, one-third patrons, and one-third artists, if it is to continue to act as the policy-making body of the museum. All means should be explored in the interest of a more open-minded and democratic museum. Art works are a cultural heritage that belongs to the people. No minority has the right to control them; therefore, a board of trustees chosen on a financial basis must be eliminated.
2. Admission to all museums should be free at all times, and they should be open evenings to accommodate working people.
3. All museums should decentralize to the extent that their activities and services enter Black, Puerto Rican, and all other communities. They should support events with which these communities can identify and control. They should convert existing structures all over the city into relatively cheap, flexible branch-museums or cultural centres that could not carry the stigma of catering only to the wealthier sections of society.
4. A section of all museums under the direction of Black and Puerto Rican artists should be devoted to showing the accomplishments of Black and Puerto Rican artists, particularly in those cities where these (or other) minorities are well represented.
5. Museums should encourage female artists to overcome centuries of damage done to the image of the female as an artist by establishing equal representation of the sexes in exhibitions, museum purchases, and on selection committees.
6. At least one museum in each city should maintain an up-to-date registry of all artists in their area, that is available to the public.
7. Museum staffs should take positions publicly and use their political influence in matters concerning the welfare of artists, such as rent control for artists’ housing, legislation for artists’ rights, and whatever else may apply specifically to artists in their area. In particular, museums, as central institutions, should be aroused by the crisis threatening man’s survival and should make their own demands to the government that ecological problems be put on par with war and space efforts.
8. Exhibition programs should give special attention to works by artists not represented by a commercial gallery. Museums should also sponsor the production and exhibition of such works outside their own premises.
9. Artists should retain a disposition over the destiny of their work, whether or not it is owned by them, to ensure that it cannot be altered, destroyed, or exhibited without their consent.
UNTIL SUCH TIME AS A MINIMUM INCOME IS GUARANTEED FOR ALL PEOPLE, THE ECONOMIC POSITION OF ARTISTS SHOULD BE IMPROVED IN THE FOLLOWING WAYS:
1. Rental fees should be paid to artists or their heirs for all work exhibited where admissions are charged, whether or not the work is owned by the artist.
2. A percentage of the profit realized on the re-sale of an artist’s work should revert to the artist or his heirs.
3. A trust fund should be set up from a tax levied on the sales of the work of dead artists. This fund would provide stipends, health insurance, help for artists’ dependents, and other social benefits.