I reached a milestone in November of 2022 which was celebrated with colleagues also celebrating work milestones last Thursday – 20 years of service as a regular full-time employee on behalf of The Metropolitan Water District of Southern California. Of those years, 19 have been with the Media Services Section of External Affairs.
It is rather astounding that companies exist at all which retain employees for so long in this day and age. This kind of commitment and loyalty is a relic from before the 1980s, when unions were more common, and work was not sent overseas to maximize company profits for greedy shareholders. Metropolitan is a government entity however, and as such is probably one of the few places of work in the U.S. which still has an active and strong union presence. In my opinion, this has benefitted both Metropolitan and the people of Southern California in providing a consistently committed workforce for years, at a time when most everyone’s experience of work is the equivalent of a revolving door. Then again, our mission of providing water is not something you can outsource to a group of constantly changing characters looking for a cash cow.
Nevertheless, keeping employees who know what they’re doing and care about what they’re doing is what it means to “do it right.” We have a system of laws and regulations to check the ones who seek profit for themselves above all, but in my opinion, for as long as I’ve been in the U.S., the goal has seemed to move ever more in the direction of ME. That is what capitalism is about, right? I guess what countered that in the past was probably Church and Family and those old school institutions that were based on a Christian (in this country) viewpoint of Love Thy Neighbor As Thyself. Whether that was followed for reals versus lip service, well, it’s human nature we’re talking about – but the verse was repeated and held up. Now? Not.
How I got to contributing my artistic talents for Metropolitan after mostly contributing my artistic eye in managing the External Affairs Photo Library, an archive of thousands of images dating back to the 1920s, was due to a stroke of luck. Two years ago I found myself placed in a new team called Creative Design. My colleagues knew that I had exhibited my video work in the U.S. and abroad, and that I had been a represented artist at LACDA in Los Angeles, but this was something I did outside of work. Now, as a member of this new team into which I had been placed, I was given the opportunity to use my drawing, animation and video skills to help spread the message of water conservation, the beauty of native plants, and how the original inhabitants of California used and valued them.
The opportunity to harness one’s creative powers for the greater good is not something that is considered a valid and important part of an artist’s career in these times. “Art,” as most people understand it, has been separated from any kind of understandable use, and is considered the product of an indulgent and self-focused kind of person, aimed to be sold to the rich to serve as an investment, a monument to themselves, and/or a status symbol. For sure there have always been artists who achieved some level of security through this route, but somehow the work created along this path has come to be The Definition of Art. It is really not.
If there was a way to bring the work of artists back to something which is normal and necessary and useful, I’d be promoting it. I’d like to see art schools teach about how much artists – fine artists specifically – can use their skills to help communicate an important message on behalf of others, in a way that is both beautiful and intelligible. But at this point, I think that if you are an artist looking to make your labor as regular as any other kind – i.e. not as you alone on the stage performing to an audience with dollar signs in their eyes – you’re going to have to carve that path out by yourself, given the fetishistic climate of the times. To those who do, I say that the reward will be well worth the confusing and long search through the loud jungle.
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