Friday, April 04, 2008
No such thing as a free lunch
Music has been chasing money ever since Bach bundled together six concertos in the hope of earning a few lunches from Christian Ludwig, the Margrave of Brandenburg. In the twenty-first century, as the credit crunch bites and funding dries up in Western countries, hardly a day passes without a story about yet more lavish arts patronage in the Eastern 'sunrise' economies.
Today Abu Dhabi gets the red-carpet treatment in the Guardian. Out in the United Arab Emirates the arts are getting everything money can buy, and more. The Louvre is signed up with a new building by Pritzker-winning architect Jean Nouvel and there is a must-have Guggenheim Museum by the must-have Frank Gehry, and crowning it all a 6,300 seater Performing Arts Centre seen above by British-Iraqi architect Zaha Hadid who won the Pritzker prize in 2004.
Justin Timberlake and Elton John have already done their thing in the new Abu Dhabi Arts Centre, and classical music is represented by a lavish festival organised by IMG Artists, themselves no strangers to chasing money. Sarah Chang, Jean-Yves Thibaudet and the London Philharmonic are just some of the artists who will be enjoying what looks like the ultimate free musical lunch.
Or is it? Despite power-luncher Steven Spielberg's recent epiphany the Guardian's Stuart Jeffries decides to neatly side-step the question of who pays. Which, I am sure, is totally unconnected with the fact that Abu Dhabi's PR people seem to be lunching the newspapers rather well right now. Musicians need to earn a living, music needs audiences and journalists need stories. But just to help explain who pays for this particular meal here are extracts from the Human Rights Watch web site for the United Arab Emirates, of which Abu Dhabi is the capital:
'The country does not hold elections for any public office, and political participation is limited to the ruling family in each emirate. The government has not signed most international human rights and labor rights treaties. Migrant workers, comprising nearly 90 percent of the workforce in the private sector, are particularly vulnerable to serious human rights violations. A major obstacle to monitoring and reporting human rights violations in the UAE is the lack of independent non-governmental organizations. The government actively discourages formation of such organizations.
Nearly 80 percent of the UAE’s population are foreigners, and foreigners account for 90 percent of the workforce in the private sector, including as domestic workers. The UAE’s extensive economic growth has attracted large sums in domestic and foreign investment, and a recent construction boom is one of the largest in the world.
There are persistent credible reports of abuses committed by employers, especially in small firms and against low-skilled workers. A main factor is the immigration sponsorship laws that grant employers extraordinary control over the affairs of migrant workers. Abuses committed against migrant workers include nonpayment of wages, extended working hours without overtime compensation, unsafe working environments resulting in death and injury, squalid living conditions in labor camps, and withholding of passports and travel documents by employers.
Women domestic workers are often confined to their places of work, and may be at particular risk of abuse including unpaid wages, long working hours, and physical or sexual abuse. According to the U.S. State Department, human trafficking to the UAE is an endemic problem.'
While elsewhere the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information reports on the UAE - 'Freedom of expression is missing despite a decision banning imprisonment for press crimes.'
Is there an acceptable middle way for the artist in a society where human rights are denied?
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