To build a career working in the independent arts or within the community sector, we make ethical and financial decisions about how we’re going to live our lives. The salaries are low, and we continue to advocate and make a difference there, but through our work we express and realise our values as individuals and as a community. Together, we make a world that is ours. Against the broader reality of global capitalism, it is indeed possible to choose the extent to which you participate in economies that you don’t condone: “To become obscenely wealthy,” as I told a law student last night, “you have to do obscene things.”

We were talking about money – feminism and money – and on the stage Karen Pickering had curated three outspoken women, each well established in our hybrid careers. Bookkeeper and property investor Sam Ryan from SAYSO (Sort All Your Shit Out); human rights lawyer Tanya Kovac from EMILY’s List; and myself, a writer, arts advocate, and arts organisation director. Each of us contributed our time, expertise and passion to Cherchez la Femme unpaid, by choice. And Karen had made this absolutely clear in contacting us. So why did we do it?

Because community life is what we make it. We befriend, we eat and drink, we exchange opinions and develop our thoughts, we build confidence, we express ourselves artistically, politically, ethically. Together, we make a world.

Over time, platforms for gathering together emerge and complexify. There are hard costs here: there’s practical items, there’s someone’s space, there’s production needs. There’s practical platforms, and over time these develop into ideas platforms, as a venue or a curated program becomes known for what it presents.

The practical aspect of ideas platforms includes venue hire, stagecraft, microphones, marketing, podcasting. Your Cherchez la Femme contribution pays for that physical platform in exactly the same way as if you’d brought your own chair, and we’d pitched a tent together to create cover, and then we’d all chipped in to make a stage so you could see us.

In such situations, nobody profits. Except, of course, inasmuch as we all do. We who spoke got to make a human, social, feminist contribution to community life. You who listened, responded and asked questions got to do the same.

Pause now for a moment and ask yourself why you’re alive. Ask the question honestly, sincerely. Take your time. We each make a determination on how to exchange our labour for money, but we don’t expect to receive money for every moment, every precious moment of being alive and inspired and engaged with the world we make and re-make with our every action.

There are plenty of speaking and writing platforms that I don’t contribute to without payment. Where content is sought to fill advertising space for a business venture, my labour is exchanged for money. Where a host platform profits from the attendance of people who have been attracted by my thoughts and ideas, or from their contact details or expectation of subsequent sales, I too expect to be paid. When I’m speaking in the company of people who are the pillars of the community (and I use that classical phrase most deliberately), I do my best to stand by their side and hold that pillar as well as I possibly can, so that the community life we make together enriches us all.

The community sector is about people mobilising for people; our community is what we make it, and we each choose the various economies in which we participate – lest they choose us. Money is just one of the units of exchange that you can use the measure the worth of your collaboration, your contribution, your voice. Make your choice so that your voice is heard.

First published on Karen Pickering. Cherchez la Femme‘s Feminism and Money with Esther Anatolitis, Sam Ryan and Tanja Kovac was presented on 7 May 2013 at the Gasometer, Fitzroy.