This is the description of the current show at Hillyer Art Space, which opened this past weekend:
Striving to find balance between the daily grind and personal artistic pursuits, our featured adjunct professors labor in the trenches; dropping knowledge for the next generation of college educated artists while pushing the envelope of the local arts scene. Adjunct/Disjunct features the works of Billy Colbert, Nikki Brugnoli Whipkey, Joe Hicks, Mike Mendez, and Juan Rojo. The show calls attention to the struggle of teaching artists who dedicate their time to the academy for little reward. Often working without health or retirement benefits and at risk from budget cuts on the non-tenure track, modern adjunct professors simply work for the teaching experience and studio access.
It’s awfully presumptuous to exhibit artists as being victims of their freely chosen career.
Life may be hard for these adjunct professors, but you know what? They’re being paid to do something creative that they love, every day. They’re gainfully employed in a career that they’ve likely dreamed of having since they were a child. They have a job in or near the District, where the unemployment rate hovers just below 12 percent. And they have a job in the arts—-a hard thing to find—-that affords them studio space. Many other artists in this city wait tables or pour drinks to support their careers, and use their apartments as studios, where they might breathe in toxic chemicals from paint as they sleep. Dare I say that life is even harder for plenty of other folks who endure low pay and a lack of health insurance who don’t get the pleasure of being paid for their thoughts and creativity, and who don’t leave a mark on the world with their work, like many laborers, factory workers, food service employees, and temp office drones.
As for the show itself, it has little to tie these very disparate artists together thematically other than their grudges. It seems as though it was organized only as a vehicle for complaint. Of course, I would never begrudge these professors the opportunity to ask for a raise, or for benefits—-that’s how you get ahead in life, and we’re all entitled to that. But is this gallery really the right forum for this sort of complaint—-a complaint that would be more effectively taken up within the university? A month-long, disjointed exhibition is an inappropriate venue for a pay dispute. Perhaps a better use of the space might have been a show featuring the work of an up-and-coming, struggling artist who lacks the opportunities that these adjuncts have been handed—-someone who actually needs a boost.