Frank Conversations About Making a Living in Dance

On the primary episode of his new podcast “Are You for Sale?,” the choreographer Miguel Gutierrez divulges the wage he paid himself throughout what he calls “one of the high points” of his profession. The large reveal? Forty-eight thousand dollars a 12 months.

“I thought, ‘OK, I’ve really gotten somewhere!’” he says, recalling his optimism on the time. “This is kind of major.”

In New York City — the place Gutierrez, 50, has been performing and choreographing for the reason that mid-1990s — $48,000 is way from a soft annual earnings. That it felt like lot, a monetary breakthrough, speaks to simply how precarious a profession in dance may be, even one supported by the various awards and grants Gutierrez has obtained.

That precariousness — why it exists, significantly in the United States, and the way artists would possibly transfer past it — is one concern of “Are You for Sale?,” a nine-episode collection that examines, in Gutierrez’s phrases, “the ethical entanglements between art and money.” The first three episodes had been launched in August; then one other batch arrives this month, starting Sept. 13.

With a frankness typically lacking from conversations about cash in the humanities, Gutierrez and his visitors enterprise into subjects just like the origins of philanthropy; the professionals and cons of presidency funding for dance; and his personal financial quagmires as an artist.

He doesn’t hesitate to quote numbers: In Episode 1, “How Much Is That Dance Piece in the Window?,” he estimates that over the course of his profession he has raised $425,000 in grants — used to pay about 40 individuals — and obtained $375,000 in awards, together with a $275,000 Doris Duke Artist Award that helped him purchase an house. He additionally enumerates the facet gigs (“the hustle”) that saved him afloat as a youthful artist: waiter, stripper, barista, file clerk, aerobics teacher (“hated that”), amongst others.

In 2018, having achieved some monetary stability, Gutierrez hit a roadblock. He was embarking on a new evening-length work, “This Bridge Called My Ass,” coping with questions on his id as a queer, experimental artist of Latin American descent. (He was born in Queens to Colombian mother and father.) Though he thought-about it certainly one of his most fun tasks but, he obtained solely one of many many grants he utilized for.

Alvaro Gonzalez and Gutierrez at The Chocolate Factory in 2019.Credit…Andrea Mohin/The New York Times

“That sent me down this rabbit hole,” Gutierrez stated in a video name from his house in Midwood, Brooklyn. “First just of disappointment, but then beyond that to a sense of curiosity about what it was to be inside a system I didn’t actually know that much about.” Around the identical time, he turned engrossed in the ebook “Decolonizing Wealth,” a catalyst for the podcast; its creator, the social justice philanthropy knowledgeable Edgar Villanueva, is a visitor on Episode 2. (The podcast’s title comes from a poem by Morgan Parker, “Welcome to the Jungle.”)

In creating “Are You for Sale?,” which he data at house, Gutierrez labored intently together with his supervisor, the dancer and choreographer Michelle Fletcher, who describes them as “a staff of two.” A self-identified “arts advocate and laborer,” Fletcher, who can also be a supervisor for the choreographers Beth Gill and Camille A. Brown, stated that the tenuousness of her livelihood “never hit so hard as it did last year,” because the pandemic dealt a blow to the performing arts.

“This podcast provided work,” she stated (she makes $33 an hour working for Gutierrez), “while at the same time a place to examine more critically than ever issues within our field, specifically money.”

Gutierrez now helps himself primarily via instructing (he was a 2020-21 choreographer in residence at Princeton University), and is again in faculty himself, incomes an M.F.A. on the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. With the identical ardour he brings to the podcast, he spoke about his pondering behind “Are You For Sale?” and what a dance artists’ utopia would possibly appear like. These are edited excerpts from the dialog.

The pandemic set off a wave of conversations about fairness in dance. I’m pondering of Creating New Futures and different artist-led teams organizing for systemic change. Do you see “Are You For Sale” as a part of this broader motion?

I had deliberate to make the podcast earlier than the pandemic struck, however the way in which the zeitgeist works, it’s all becoming in. So completely, I see this as a part of that, [a moment] for us, particularly these of us in the dance area, to discover ways to be much less afraid of conversations round cash.

I don’t solely imply that in relationship to funders. I imply inside the studio itself, with the ability to have readability about questions of fee, choreographers not seeing that dialog as threatening, dancers not seeing that dialog as accusing.

I would like for us as a area to develop into mature and never get trapped in these horrible, infantilizing roles that the financial circumstances of creating our work nearly impose onto us. I hate how that stage of concern has dominated my life, and typically nonetheless does, and it pains me to know that typically I’ve imposed that on dancers who’ve labored for me, maybe inadvertently or unknowingly.

How did you get to a place of with the ability to converse extra frankly about cash?

I feel it’s a consequence of the privileges and entry I’ve been given, and possibly the pandemic tipped the scales lastly. In normal, I feel my mission as an artist has been to deliver transparency and candor into the room, to puncture at professionalism when it’s used as a controlling mechanism to take care of the established order.

When I’m doing that, I’m bringing my dad into the room, bringing my queer activist coaching into the room, bringing ACT-UP into the room — a lengthy line of individuals whose function has been to be the truth-tellers, which frequently falls to the marginal members of society.

That appears like a part of my function. It’s my duty, if I’ve made my solution to the ivory tower, to bust down the doorways.

Gutierrez: “I think my project as an artist has been to bring transparency and candor into the room.”Credit…Kendall Bessent for The New York Times

But it might nonetheless be scary.

I used to be terrified to place this podcast out. I used to be outing myself as a one that has gotten help, which isn’t essentially a thriller. But, you recognize, I gave out the precise numbers. And there’s a little little bit of this bite-the-hand-that-feeds-you concern.

You imply that individuals who have supported you’ll hear it and suppose —

I used to be scared that I used to be by no means going to get a grant once more and that I used to be going to be seen as a whiny particular person — which I’m all the time terrified of. But cranky is a part of the model. Cranky with humor and gratitude and love.

That’s all the time been my factor: Part of affection is criticism, you recognize? You can provide criticism with care and the hopes of inviting a paradigm shift. I’m not out right here to simply set all the things on hearth and stroll away. I’m in the dialog. And I additionally perceive the way in which in which we’re all implicated and enmeshed in this factor, and there’s not a easy answer.

If you could possibly create a utopia for dance artists, what are some issues we would discover there?

Well, first there must be a change in society about all low-income employees, a sense of solidarity throughout the board. There could be common well being care, hire stabilization, eviction moratoriums perpetually, common primary earnings of some variety, free public schooling, mortgage forgiveness. We’d be residing in a nation that was enthusiastic about supporting its residents.

Then there could be multiyear help, so that you’re not trapped in a project-based funding cycle; you’re simply allowed to do your work for X period of time, nevertheless it manifests. And there could be a frequent software for grants, like for faculty. You might simply plug in your one paragraph and possibly your price range, and the funders must compete with one another to help the mission.

That’s a good one.

So, stuff like that. I want there was a assessment committee so that each time one thing just like the Shed is conceived of, we could possibly be like, “Actually, let’s give this ridiculous amount of money to the gazillion organizations that already exist and are strapped for funds.” We don’t want new venues in New York; we have to give extra money to those that exist.

There are most likely far more holistic methods of pondering than I’m arising with, however at coronary heart, I’m profoundly a Taurus, and I’m like, “Where’s the check? Where’s the direct deposit?” I’m excited about how this exists on the bottom for the world we’re residing in. Yes, the higher world might come, and I would like that world to return. But we’re now in this one.