Debtfair at Art League Houston



Debtfair is an ongoing artistic campaign dedicated to exploring the relationship between economic inequality in the art market and artists’ increasing debt burdens. Debtfair at Art League Houston is organized by Noah Fischer and Kenneth Pietrobono with Tal Beery, Imani Jacqueline Brown and Arthur Polendo: Occupy Museums members. Occupy Museums is a direct action art group that grew out of the Occupy Wall Street Movement in

In collaboration with artists from Occupy Museums, Art League Houston is excited to present Debtfair, an exhibition which aims to expose the relationship between economic inequality in the culture industry and artists’ growing debt burdens. The exhibition features work from sixty Texas-based artists who responded to an open call inviting artists to submit artworks that are of equal relative value to their monthly debt payment. The works in this exhibition represent a collective debt of over $3 million dollars, with interest rates ranging from zero using income-based repayment plans to as high as 19%.

By focusing on a monthly debt payment as a position of value, artists and viewers are asked to consider the fluctuating relationships of artists’ time, development, creative production, exploration, community, and sustainability under increasing financial burdens. Answering questions on their economic realities as part of the open call process, participatingDebtfair artists reveal the enormity of the often speculative loan industry with debts to over 30 financial institutions represented amongst the 60 participants. Displayed directly inside wall openings between studs in Art League Houston’s Main Gallery, the work of exhibiting artists will invoke the layers of extraction that exist in most spaces and those particularly present in the rarified value system of the culture industry.

Growing out of the Occupy Wall Street Movement, conceptualization for Debtfair began in 2012 by asking artists to share their economic realities in alignment with their art work. Discovering the complexity of decisions that inform not only an artist’s work but also their economic conditions, collects profiles presenting artist’s imagery and their statements on the ways “economic reality affects your art.”

With 99 profiles to date and $5.1 million in debt represented, continues to align artists’ work with their economic realities as a new prism in which to consider cultural production in the growing debt crisis. Asked to create profiles in tandem with physical installation, each Texas-based artist’s online statements provide a narrative window to the feelings and experiences of being an artist while navigating economic conditions.

While many feel isolated by their economic reality, Debtfair works to build solidarity and community around our shared economic conditions. Art League Houston will host the first fully-realized project using the Debtfair model. Artwork in the exhibition will be organized in collective groupings (“bundles”) based on commonalities between each artist’s economic realities, presenting artworks and artists in shared rather than individual terms. Total debts amongst the artists are tabulated in a running tally while identifying the institutions in which these debts are rooted, the feelings they elicit and the choices they represent.

Each collective grouping will be available for sale at a starting value of the totaled monthly debt payments of the participating artists. This number will then be given the same interest rates and financial metrics applied to the debts of participating artists, increasing bundle price at the same rate of artists’ debts. In the event of sales, funds will be distributed to artists at their declared value, further profits evenly split and all payments made directly to the artists’ lending institution for a minimum of one month’s debt relief.