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June 1, 2021Stephen Laifer -
Giovanna Moraga Clayton didn’t set out to be on the Local 47 (Los Angeles) executive board. But here she is. “Honestly, I never necessarily wanted to do it,” says the freelance cellist, who has been working in Los Angeles film and television studios for the last 14 years. “But when someone asked me to consider it, I had strong feelings. In negotiations, I was seeing how the other side of the table typically had a considerable amount of diversity. On our side, at the local level, not so much.”
Clayton believes increased diversity helps to balance the equation. “Local boards are generally not a fair representation of the diversity of the union’s membership. And this lack of diversity entrenches the disconnect between the union and younger generations of musicians.”
It’s no surprise that one of Clayton’s goals is to reach younger union members and get them involved. She has herself been an AFM member since the age of 17, at the behest of her dad. The daughter of musical parents who immigrated to the US from Toluca, Mexico, when Clayton was seven, she discovered the cello early. “I had a short, failed stint on violin. I’m left-handed, so I played it backwards,” she remembers. “My dad always wanted me to be a cellist, so I ended up switching.”
Her family eventually settled in Oxnard, which boasts a large Latino community. Clayton’s parents played in local orchestras, and she attended the Idyllwild Arts Academy for two years in high school. At 14, she made her first solo orchestra debut. She won a fellowship through the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and became a member of Local 10-208. Ultimately, she moved back to California where she won positions with the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra and the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra.
These days, in Los Angeles with her husband and two kids, much of Clayton’s playing is in Hollywood recording studios, and she boasts a long line of film and TV credits. She is also a songwriter. Years of studio work have only heightened her appreciation for the potential and protections of the union, sharpening her focus on what can be improved from her position on the Local 47 executive board. She again homes in on the word “disconnect,” and increasing common ground between union leaders and rank-and-file membership. Her remedy is also a single word: communication.
“One of the things we currently lack as a union is this clear flow of communication between both constituents,” she says. “Younger members, in particular, say they call the union office and often don’t even get a call back. We can improve that.” Clayton also feels a pressing need to use improved communication as a vehicle to activate working musicians, helping them understand that the union really is them. “The AFM, as with any union, functions because of its members. I was guilty of not really understanding this. And that’s why I’m here now, on the executive board. One of my aims is to bring back the ‘customer service’ our union has become known for.”
Another challenge, according to Clayton, is that working musicians typically don’t see the AFM as a labor union. “Artists think and function differently, and we are not always our own best representatives,” she points out. In negotiations, Clayton learned from the examples of support from both the Screen Actors Guild and the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (SAG-AFTRA) and the Writers Guild. “The better your relationships, the more support you have. The labor world is all in the same boat, and the AFM is strengthened when other unions fight the good fight with us.” Clayton also points to the model of the largest union, the Teamsters. “They stick together, and they can bring a production to a halt. As musicians, we can learn from this. They have the strength, and they understand that strength comes from their numbers.”
At Local 47, Clayton sees herself having the responsibility for holding up a shining beacon for the local’s younger working musicians. “They often don’t actually realize how much the union does in terms of securing the work they do. And the younger generation is very savvy. They need to know their worth and understand the history of our contracts.” In that same spirit of education, Clayton hosts a podcast called I AM Music, highlighting musician stories that teach, help musicians grow, and provide inspiration. She also likes to use the hashtag #knowyourgig. “The only thing wrong with the music business is that the minions don’t know how it runs. They need to understand the business,” she says.
Clayton has now been a director on the Local 47 executive board for several months. She says she attempts to connect the local to what is happening on the ground and vice versa. “That’s in between trying to understand Robert’s Rules of Order for board meetings,” she laughs. “I’m still learning, and it has been a great education. But I know, if I step up, I can make a difference.”