The Letter

fair conditions for artists working transnationally

By Yasen Vasilev, Anna Manubens & Pieternel Vermoortel

This text is divided in five chapters; the context of “The Letter”, Working with “The Letter”, Inspirations, Practicalities and the first version of “The Letter”. “The Letter” is an instrument to start a discussion and raise awareness about economic precarity within the arts and the economic and systemic inequalities artists face when they or their work travels internationally. As a living document, “The Letter” will change shape, depending on its use.

Context: ours and “The Letter”

Through this proposal, we1 aim to acknowledge the current reality of artistic working life. Art projects and initiatives created in one country tend to often travel transnationally as artistic discourse constantly spreads across borders. When an artist, cultural worker, or artistic initiative, project, or artwork travels and/or is produced across different geographies, they encounter different legal, political, and cultural frameworks. One of the consequences of this is the fact that the attributed financial value of the work and the labour power invested in making the project or in building up the initiative varies depending on the context. Along with the financial value that fluctuates, working principles also vary. As a result, the richness and novelty that artists treasure within international exchange can be dampened by a clash in working principles and associated remuneration. Getting to know the intricacies of the new context can involve a steep learning curve. In certain situations, such education in context is not available to the artist, cultural worker, or arts initiative, and that can lead to the impossibility of accessing fair working conditions. A perpetual sense of re-evaluation, negotiation, and uncertainty derives from this configuration – along with material and psychological pressure. Sure, projects should travel. Access is necessary. But we believe there are better ways to tackle the change in context, which rely on solidarity and transparency, care and support cross-institutionally and individually. It’s with this hope and trust in improving conditions and knowledge of navigating transnational contexts that we are drafting “The Letter”. We build it up as an instrument that offers simple, practical, and sustainable solutions to improve inequalities within current economic frameworks while remaining critical and aware of the many layers of issues and contradictions within the artistic field. We don’t let contradictions paralyse us; we work through them. We stay with the trouble, and use “The Letter” as an instrument to start a discussion about economic precarity within the arts. We also use it to highlight and work through the nomadic condition of artists and their output as we question growth-based, production-oriented economic models that are the bedrock of the impending climate crisis and something we should learn to fight against – given the urgency of the topic. We also touch upon the steps that artists take even before their work ends up traveling. Here we are referring to writing applications for projects and residencies and the energy that goes into these processes, which tends to be hit and miss since a majority of the time invested into application writing is never compensated – adding to work overload and frustration. “The Letter” ultimately emphasises the importance of care for the individuals making up the artistic field and maintenance as well as repair for the bureaucratic structures that keep those individuals moving safely and mindfully.

Working with “The Letter”

We propose an instrument that can be used to build a community of cultural workers and institutions that both discuss and tackle the inequalities within the artistic working field – especially for traveling artworks and artists, cultural workers, and institutions. We call this instrument “The Letter”. “The Letter” poses questions, offers the possibility to discuss and negotiate, and makes up a virtual space in which a process of awareness of inequalities, discussions, learning and change can take place. When using “The Letter”, the main goal is to contextualise issues and discuss their structural dimensions. An additional goal is to offer artists, cultural workers, and institutions the chance to reach out to one another and open up conversations with other signatories. A first version of “The Letter” is attached, and it’s ready to be put to work in building community – with the understanding that this is a living document that can also be adapted to the needs of the community that uses it.

Other “Letters”

This is a not exhaustive list of reflections and ethical standards by other initiatives that “The Letter” is inspired by and which can be added to “The Letter”:


“The Letter” can be signed by artists, cultural workers and institutions that commit to good working practices and agree to be part of a network of learning and exchange. “The Letter” can be attached to a contract or be used for collaboration to ensure both parties will follow its guidelines for fair practice and ethical standards.

A webpage on The Flanders Art Institute website2 will make “The Letter” public, and its community visible. Every arts organisation can show their commitment towards fair working conditions by signing “The Letter” on that website. Thus, “The Letter” unites a network of people who deal with and think about similar issues and are willing to tackle the problems and share their experiences. We are looking forward to ideas, terms and conditions to realise this.

We propose to allow “The Letter” to be continuously and collectively reviewed and adapted through workshops where signatories and new allies are welcome to participate. We want “The Letter” to live on as a multi-lingual document and have it translated to a.o. Arabic, Mandarin, Dutch, French, Spanish, German, Bulgarian, etc.

First version of “The Letter”

The needs and rights of artists are a public issue

This is the principle on which solidarity is built – the idea that our working conditions are not private matters but issues we should share transparently within the field. Things like rates, working hours, budgets, time off, issues of mindful travel, and inclusivity and diversity all contain an inherent political dimension. The terms and conditions under which an artist or cultural worker agrees to contribute their work to a public process or display should not rely on their will, availability and energy when negotiating. We, the signatories of “The Letter”, insist that hosting institutions should take responsibility for finding ways to preserve the needs and rights of artists and cultural workers. If a solution to better support a specific project might sometimes translate into committing to do less overall – adapting the physical or temporal dimensions of the work – we agree to the fact that this is a preferable solution in place of stretching resources thin and overworking, which leads to burnout and precarity. Questions to reflect on together at the start of the collaboration: Are institutions raising, sustaining or undermining the working standards of the artistic field? Are the working standards of the artistic field made properly transparent to the artists and cultural workers developing a project within an institution? Is an artist or cultural worker’s vulnerability a personal issue or a collective one?

A network of partners strengthens collective imagination.

We, the signatories of “The Letter” strongly believe in the strength of collective imagination. We encourage the creation of a support structure around a traveling project, artist, or cultural worker. We are aware that ‘working internationally’ is not only a way to describe the fact that a project, artist, or cultural worker travels. It also implies the creation of a network of partners that have the potential to become a safety net. Through this, we believe that projects that travel don’t just have one moment of display but instead have ramifications in terms of working relationships. When looking for ideas to work together mindfully, the network created by the project can step in and be supportive. Any institution working internationally within the field of culture in any phase of development for a project can reach out to the rest of the institutions directly or indirectly concerned with the same topic and find creative, collaborative solutions to address uneven terms and conditions. Questions to reflect on together at the start of the collaboration: Do we agree to reset the value of the same project simply because it is presented in another context? Do we accept that an artist or cultural worker should forfeit building up social security rights in a different nation’s work environment?

Fair working conditions need context-specific answers.

We, the signatories of “The Letter”, want to understand transnational working conditions in a way that allows us to handle them rather than be overwhelmed by them. We want to understand the context in which they are created. We are aware that it is impossible and even not desirable to set standards that would be imposed on all scales and locations. There is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ solution that we’re aiming for. Universally intended solutions are top-down, not mindful of local realities, and they end up practicing biased and exclusionary ways of working. If there is a way to find an agreement on how to soften the randomness of international payments and conditions, it is by understanding that there are not systemic solutions, but there can be fairer conditions established in a context-sensitive manner. Questions to reflect on together at the start of the collaboration: How many iterations of this project – with this duration and for this money – would be needed to make living/life sustainable for the artist over a year, considering the context the project is displayed in? Are artists coming from other national contexts uplifting or undermining local working conditions? Are they even aware of what local conditions are? What would be needed to allow them to be more aware?

DATE: ....... / ........... / .........



  1. The proposal was developed in the context of A Fair New Idea which is a series of open calls that took place in 2022, organised by Kunstenpunt (Flanders Arts Institute). The goal of the open calls was to develop ideas and proposals for a fair, inclusive, and sustainable arts sector. Ten arts professionals were selected for the call ‘working sustainably internationally’. From those ten, there were three groups formed, each focused on one aspect of sustainability. Anna Manubens (Hangar Barcelona), Yasen Vasilev (artist, dancer from Sofia), and Pieternel Vermoortel (Netwerk Aalst) worked as a group around ‘inequalities in working internationally’.