SCA2014: The Work of Art

To express interest in this panel, please use the comments feature on this page and/or contact Hallie Wells or Annie Malcolm: halliewells [at] or a.malcolm [at]

In her 1969 “Manifesto for Maintenance Art,” Mierle Laderman Ukeles distinguishes between the work of development and the work of maintenance, noting the status and power differentials between work that is considered “pure individual creation” and work that sustains rather than creates. Ukeles’ framework is analogous to Hannah Arendt’s distinction between work and labor, though Arendt sees in labor (despite its monotony and physical difficulty) “the blessing of life as a whole” while Ukeles zeroes in on what any dish-washer knows: “Maintenance is a drag.” 

This roundtable discussion reformulates Ukeles’ intervention in the context of contemporary Detroit, to ask: after bankruptcy, “who’s going to pick up the garbage on Monday morning?” What role might artistic labor (broadly conceived) and notions of creativity play in both the maintenance and development of Detroit’s social and economic life? Can and should maintenance be aestheticized, and how might doing so impact its perceived value? Are increasing precarity and risk the necessary evils of an economy that purports to favor entrepreneurialism and creativity, and how does the work of art figure into this? What sorts of assumptions undergird a temporal distinction between maintenance and development (or labor and work), where maintenance is continuous while development happens in spurts of productivity, and what might art have to say about these temporalities? 

These questions are crucial ones, not only for Detroit as it grapples with pressing budgetary concerns, but for an anthropological account of the relation between art and labor in contemporary economies and regimes of value.

If this sounds like a conversation you would be interested in having, please submit a short (paragraph or two) description of how you might respond to these questions, or ask other related ones, by January 27th. You can write to Hallie Wells (halliewells [at] or Annie Malcolm (a.malcolm [at] Thank you!