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Labor in the Arts

Monday, May 24 2021

Join us on Monday, May 24th at 7pm on zoom for our Labor in the Arts panel discussion and community conversation moderated by Meaghan LaSala of Southern Maine Workers Center. Reflecting on the surge of organizing efforts in the arts across the country in the past year, this conversation explores art and cultural workplace issues, WAGE protections for artists, and more. 

Joining this discussion are Nicole Elizabeth Cook of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, Whitney Stanley of the Portland Museum of Art, and Michael Kebede of the Maine ACLU. Each of our panelists will speak about their experience getting into organizing in and how labor organizing strategies can adapt for institutions with smaller staff sizes. We invite arts workers to join us and come with questions for the panel at the end of their discussion.

Moderated by: 

Meaghan LaSala, she/her
Interim Executive Director at Southern Maine Workers Center

Meaghan became involved in SMWC in the fall of 2012 and it has been her political home ever since. As a student at the University of Southern Maine she organized against budget cuts, program closures and layoffs, and was part of the inter-campus coalition that successfully pressured the University of Maine System to divest from coal. She’s also been active in the movement to end fossil fuel extraction. Meaghan is inspired by the visionary, cross-sector, international movement building coming to fruition right now, to end white supremacy and build an economy for people and the planet. 

The Southern Maine Workers’ Center is a grassroots, member-led organization that works to improve the lives, working conditions and terms of employment for poor and working class people in Maine. We run a Worker Support Hotline and legal clinic, support workers in connecting with unions and organizing in their workplace, and run community-based campaigns for the human right to health care and to work with dignity. 


Nicole Elizabeth Cook, Ph.D
Program Manager for Graduate Academic Partnerships, Philadelphia Museum of Art
Member of Philadelphia Museum of Art Union, AFSCME District Council 47

Nicole is a museum professional and a scholar of early modern European art who is interested in interrogating the traditional centering of Renaissance and Baroque art in museums and finding new ways for these works to resonate with today’s audiences. At the Philadelphia Museum of Art, she currently facilitates academic engagement with regional art history departments and programming for fellows. She holds a Ph.D. in Art History from the University of Delaware, an M.A. in Art History from Temple University, and a B.F.A. in Studio Art. She has previously held curatorial positions at Science History Institute and The Leiden Collection and regularly teaches at local universities. Nicole is an elected trustee on the leadership team of the Philadelphia Museum of Art Union and believes in the critical importance of advocating for labor rights in museums.

Whitney Stanley
Associate Registrar and Collection Data Manager, Portland Museum of Art
Member of Portland Museum of Art Union, UAW 2110

Whitney Stanley is the Associate Registrar and Collection Data Manager at the Portland Museum of Art, Maine where she has held her position since 2018. She is on the organizing committee of the Maine PMA Union, UAW Local 2110. Whitney has 13 years of experience in the museum field, holding positions in visitor services, education, conservation, and curatorial at multiple institutions including the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum and the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. 

Michael Kebede
Policy Counsel, Maine ACLU

Michael Kebede is Policy Counsel at the ACLU of Maine, where he advocates at the state and local level for policy that advances civil rights and liberties for all people in Maine. 

Before joining the ACLU in 2019, Michael was Consumer Rights Advocate at Maine Equal Justice, a non-profit civil legal services organization in Augusta. There, he lobbied to advance the rights of low-income people in lending, utilities, and housing law.  Before that, Michael was an Associate at Verrill, a full-service law firm in Portland, Maine. At Verrill, Michael represented clients in patent disputes, complex commercial matters, and personal injury cases. 

Michael earned his law degree from Boston College Law School, and was awarded the Alumni Association Award at graduation. Following law school, Michael served as law clerk to Chief Justice Saufley of the Maine Supreme Judicial Court. Michael earned his master’s degree from the University of Oxford in Socio-Legal Research, and his bachelor’s degree from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst in Anthropology and Social Thought and Political Economy.

SPACE reopens today May 20th, for the first time in 14 months. Like many, our staff and the artists we work with have learned a lot about the changing world of labor through this pandemic. Much has changed internally, locally, and nationally in the arts and SPACE hopes to facilitate an open community conversation with our partner, Southern Maine Workers Center, to explore the issues raised within our field this year. 

All of those who are interested in labor organizing, the arts, the cultural workforce, ethics, unions, Working Artists for the Greater Economy (WAGE) and more are welcome to join us for this important conversation. 

SPACE acknowledges that many of our office staff had the privilege to stay employed through the PPP loan period, but our event and production staff had no clear roadmap without live events to produce. We offer our solidarity to all of those whose labor conditions changed during this year, and to BIPOC+, queer, femme, and parent workers who have been disproportionately effected by job losses during the pandemic.

Organized by Lia Wilson and Peter McLaughlin
Community Conversations are supported by the Samuel L Cohen Foundation.