In recent months, a long-overdue spotlight has been shone on the toxic culture underpinning parts of the digital art industry. While the issues are varied and complex, the core focuses on individuals in positions of power using their clout to exploit and prey on artists who are simply trying to establish themselves.
It’s a problem that’s recognised as not being exclusive to comics or concept art workplaces. Indeed, a number of industries are being forced to acknowledge the scale and significance of the abuses of power going on behind the scenes.
So how have we ended up in this situation? And what do we do now the conversations have started? We asked artists working in the industry today what steps we need to take to create a safe, fair space for everyone.
It’s difficult to pin-point what might have caused the rise of this predatory culture, but there are some practices that may have perpetuated the problems. One is the informal and typically boozy after-hours meet-ups at events, where hosts actively encourage industry networking to take place.
“Beginners are told that they can increase their likelihood of getting opportunities by networking at conventions and having peers recommend them for jobs,” says American fantasy artist and illustrator Rachel Quinlan. “Interacting in these environments seems like a critical step in their career.”
WHY MEET UP AFTER-HOURS?
The problem is that these events are neither wholly social nor completely professional situations. Are you there to network with other professionals, just spending an hour or two catching up with friends or simply letting off steam at the end of a busy day? Bon Alimagno, a former talent scout for Marvel, believes that, “You end up with this toxic mix where folks with power and folks without power are mingling under totally unclear terms, and with many looking to just have whatever they think a good time is.”
The parties might be one of the places where abuse thrives, but they’re not causing the behaviour all on their own. “An industry party with an open bar does not magically make someone an abuser,” comments Lyndsey Gallant, an art director and concept artist.
Look a little closer, and exacerbating the issue is an industry where someone’s whole career can hinge on who they’re able to win over.
“Entertainment industries embody a variety of factors that are incredibly conducive to power dynamic inequities, and those inequities allow predation to thrive,” continues Lyndsey. “Like it or not, we’re an industry where gatekeeping and cults of personality are encouraged and maintained.”
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