Archive for the ‘tips’ Category

For the Win

Thursday, July 21st, 2016

In mid-August, we plan to publish our guidelines for the 2017 Artist Fellowships cycle.

In preparation, we’ve updated our Tips on Applying for an MCC Artist Fellowships article on ArtSake. We’ve also recently updated our compendium of opportunities to find funding as a Massachusetts artist.

If you’re a Massachusetts artist hoping for funding to make your work, both articles are worth your time.

And while we’re on the topic of awards and grants, congratulations are in order for a number of local artists who’ve recently won honors in the arts.


Production still from Y2Y, a film-in-progress by Laurie Kahn

LEF Foundation Moving Image Fund Awards Local Filmmakers
LEF Foundation, a crucial supporter of nonfiction film in New England, recently announced $30,000 in pre-production grants to early-stage film projects. Some of the funded projects include Laurie Kahn’s Y2Y, about a visionary homeless shelter for young adults in Harvard Square, Alex Morelli’s The White Pine Project, about a former mining town that becomes a travel stop for families of maximum security prisoners, and Soon-Mi Yoo and Haden Guest’s Traveling Gods, about the divergent paths Christianity has taken in Korea and Japan. The $5,000 awards go to films that “demonstrate excellence in technique, strong storytelling ability, and originality of artistic vision and voice.”

The next grant deadline for the LEF Foundation Moving Image Fund is January 27, 2017 for projects seeking production or post-production support.


Detail of painting by Masako Kamiya, photo by Clements/Howcroft Photography

Lillian Orlowsky and William Freed Foundation Grants Awarded to Three Massachusetts Painters
The Provincetown Art Association and Museum’s Lilian Orlowsky and William Freed Foundation Grant (for American painters aged 45 or older) awards monetary prizes from $5,000 to $30,000. Congratulations to the recently announced 2016 grantees, including Massachusetts-based artists Masako Kamiya (Painting Fellow ’10, ’06), Frank Gregory, and Marjorie Kaye.

The 2017 application for this grant will be available after September 1, 2016.


Find more grant and other opportunities in ArtSake’s Artist Opportunities round-ups.

Images: Production still from Y2Y, a film-in-progress by Laurie Kahn; detail of painting by Masako Kamiya, photo by Clements/Howcroft Photography.

Crowdfunding: A Primer

Friday, May 20th, 2016

From THE CIRCLE by Julie Mallozzi, crowdfunding on IndieGoGo

This is an updated version of a previously published article.

So, you have a creative project (an unfinished film, music album, graphic novel, etc.) and you want funding so you can adequately – make that epically – realize your vision.

Instead of relying solely on traditional grant programs (such as our Artist Fellowships or Local Cultural Council grants), which may or may not match up with your project’s timeline, you might consider using a crowdfunding site as part of your fundraising strategy.

Artists crowdfund by soliciting donations from many individual supporters, directing donations to one central online presence. There are a number of crowdfunding sites for artists to choose from, which generally have these things in common:

  • They make it easy for individuals to make tax-deductible donations.
  • They ask artists to set a fundraising goal.
  • They provide helpful and novel ways to interact with donors, including the ability to offer rewards.
  • And a certain percentage of the donations go to the crowdfunding site to pay for the service.

What sites are out there, and what differentiates them?


From the Kickstarter video for THE CHEMICAL WEDDING BY CHRISTIAN ROSENCREUTZ by John Crowley, illustrated by Theo Fadel, to be published by Small Beer Press

The most prominent crowdfunding site is Kickstarter. Anyone from tech entrepreneurs to working artists can use the site to create campaigns for their project, with a funding goal. Kickstarter campaigners then offer creative rewards (say, an embroidered t-shirt or a DVD of the project or a personalized portrait) to donors, increasing the appeal of the reward based on the donation amount.

Things to keep in mind about Kickstarter: if campaigns do not meet their fundraising goal, the artist gets nothing, so the incentive is high to drum up support. Also, project campaigns need to be approved by Kickstarter to launch.

For an example, check out this campaign by Small Beer Press (out of Easthampton, MA) to publish a new version of what just might be the history’s first science fiction book. The background story is unique and appealing, and the project’s video is especially strong.


THE CLEMENTE PROJECT by James Rutenbeck, crowdfunding on HatchFund

Another major crowdfunding site is Hatchfund (formerly called United States Artists Projects). Hatchfund is similar to Kickstarter in many ways, with tax-deductible donations, creative rewards, and an all-or-nothing fundraising goal. (Additionally, there’s a “stretch goal” if the original is exceeded.)

Unlike Kickstarter, Hatchfund is specifically focused on artists. Some projects may receive matching funds from Hatchfund for a portion of their campaign. And perhaps most significantly, Hatchfund offers one-on-one coaching and support for artists by Hatchfund staff.

Check out The Clemente Project by James Rutenbeck (Film & Video Finalist ’11), which you can also read about here. The campaign does a great job conveying how a story about unheralded voices in one struggling community can have universal significance.


THE CIRCLE Crowdfunding video from Julie Mallozzi

Another crowdfunding site is IndieGoGo. The big difference is that, unlike the all-or-nothing approach of Kickstarter and Hatchfund, you can elect to keep all of the money you raise (minus site fees), even if you don’t meet your goal.

Check out The Circle by Julie Mallozzi (Film & Video Finalist ’15, ’07), which very successfully conveys the potential impact of the project and its appeal to both targeted communities (like anti-violence activists) and a wider audience.

Go Totally DIY
Not a joiner? You could also take the principles of crowdfunding and set up your own campaign. You’ll need a PayPal or similar online payment account, a home base (like a web site homepage or a blog), and a group that will act as an organizational fiscal sponsor so that donations will be tax deductible. In film, the Center for Independent Documentary and Filmmakers Collaborative both serve as fiscal sponsors for film projects, and the New York organization Fractured Atlas serves as fiscal sponsor for artist projects in all disciplines, and throughout the country. You can even include creative rewards and frequent updates to your donors – you’ll just have to handle the infrastructure of these actions on your own.

Best Practices
What are best practices in crowdfunding? Successful campaigns tend to…

  • Tell a compelling story. The campaign, whether through its video, description, updates, or all of the above, successfully conveys why this project is essential and why its supporters’ contributions are meaningful.
  • Tap into and cultivate an interested community.
  • Incentivize support. Rewards are part of that incentive, but even better is when the story is the incentive: the project’s storytelling convinces an interested community that this is a can’t-miss opportunity to be part of something important.

Further research:
Read How do you use online platforms as an artist? on ArtSake
Beth Kanter’s blog shares five basic crowdfunding tips
Find tips on best practices when crowdfunding an artist project on The Abundant Artist

Image: still image from THE CIRCLE by Julie Mallozzi (Film & Video Finalist ’15, ’07) crowdfunding through IndieGoGo; still image from the Kickstarter video for THE CHEMICAL WEDDING BY CHRISTIAN ROSENCREUTZ by John Crowley, illustrated by Theo Fadel, to be published by Small Beer Press; screenshot of the crowdfunding campaign for THE CLEMENTE PROJECT by James Rutenbeck (Film & Video Finalist ’11); IndieGoGo video for THE CIRCLE.

Learn about MCC Support for Artists

Monday, September 28th, 2015

This month, the Massachusetts Cultural Council (MCC) has been holding a series of informational sessions about MCC Support for Individual Artists, exploring the grants, services, and other forms of support MCC and its partner organizations provide for individual artists.

The final event in this series takes place Wednesday, September 30, 2015, 7-8:30 PM, at the New Art Center in Newton. It’s free and open to the public, and as a bonus, the event coincides with an exhibition of art by MCC awardees in Crafts and Sculpture/Installation/New Genres.

Watch the video embedded above for a brief summary of the evening’s topic. While by no means covering all of MCC’s programs, it offers a snapshot of the MCC opportunities that most directly benefit individual artists.

Mapping Technology and Art-Making

Tuesday, September 15th, 2015

From the Smithsonian Libraries Tumblr

The Nonprofit Technology Network (NTEN) hosts a Nonprofit Arts Community of Practice, a place where people working at the intersection of the nonprofit arts sector and technology can share ideas, resources, and anything else that comes to mind.

Next call: September 22, 2015 at 2pm ET

How is mapping technology informing the narrative of art-making and ownership?

Join NTEN’s Nonprofit Arts Community of Practice for a conversation with arts organizations utilizing mapping technology on September 22 at 2pm ET (11am PT).

Learn about how Carnegie Museum of Art makes its provenance accessible and interactive and hear from HowlRound about their New Play Map, establishing new narratives about who theatermakers are and about how new theater and artists get supported.

Jamie M. Gahlon, Senior Creative Producer, HowlRound
Neil Kulas, Web & Digital Media Manager, Carnegie Museum of Art
Brad Stephenson, Director of Marketing, Carnegie Museum of Art

Join the call:

Optional dial in number: 866-853-1888 (No PIN needed)

Learn more about the Community of Practice’s conversations to date.

NTEN Communities of Practice center on themes that reflect both a specific programmatic focus and an ongoing opportunity for growth. They are supported by volunteer community organizers who agree to nurture and ignite conversation and engagement. You do not need to be a member of NTEN to participate.

The NTEN NonProfit Arts Community of Practice is a place to launch discussions, pose questions, share ideas and tools, and interact with others. To participate, create an NTEN profile and join the NonProfit Arts Community of Practice (which includes discussion board, event listings, resource libraries, etc.).

To connect on Twitter, use the hashtag #nptecharts

Image: gif from the Smithsonian Libraries Tumblr.

Free Info Sessions on MCC Support for Individual Artists

Friday, August 14th, 2015

But we do have a lot of good info.

The Massachusetts Cultural Council is currently celebrating 40 years of direct funding to individual artists in Massachusetts. We thought this milestone made for a good opportunity to spread the word about the numerous ways MCC and its partner organizations support individual artists.

You can learn about grants, services, online platforms, events, and other details of interest to Massachusetts artists at one of the MCC Support for Individual Artists events in September (note updated times):

The Forbes Library, Community Room, 20 West St, Northampton
Tuesday, September 15, 2015, 1:30-3 PM

Worcester Public Library, The Saxe Room, 3 Salem Street, Worcester
Thursday, September 17, 2015, from 12-1:30 PM

New Bedford Public Library, 613 Pleasant St, New Bedford
Tuesday, September 22, 2015 12-1:30 PM

Pollard Memorial Library, 401 Merrimack St, Lowell
September 24, 2015, 12-1:30 PM

New Art Center, 61 Washington Park, Newtonville
Wednesday, September 30, 2015, 7-8:30 PM

Each event will include a presentation and a question-and-answer session. All events are free and open to the public. Please see MCC’s Access Policy for information on requesting alternative formats, auxiliary aids, and services necessary to participate in one of the sessions. If you can’t attend an event, watch a video about MCC Support for Artists.

Image: Steve Fitch, SNAKEPIT OPERATOR, HWY 66, SAYRE, OKLAHOMA (1973), via the Smithsonian Art Gallery.

How Do You Talk about Your Art?

Thursday, August 6th, 2015

Periodically, we pose a question to artists about an issue they face in their work and lives.

At some point, most artists are asked to either speak or write about their work and about their creative process. How much do they explain? What aspects do they steer away from discussing?

We asked artists in different disciplines, What do you strive to convey when speaking or writing publicly about your work?

Matthew Gamber, 3D GLASSES (2010), Digital Silver Gelatin Print, 20x24 in

Matthew Gamber, visual artist
Primarily: brevity. In that brevity, you have the opportunity to distill your intent to a specific focus. Unless the statement is an artwork (producing an effect), then the statement should be written with the intent to illuminate your intention for the audience. In my opinion, to write about art is to write about it as you would any other subject. Avoid cliché, and often repeated phrases – these are descriptive crutches that have lost all explanatory power.

Stefanie Lubkowski, composer
Much like the title of the piece, an introduction is an invitation into the world of the music. Many times when I am asked to speak before a performance of my music, my mind goes blank until moments before the preceding piece ends. This is not only due to a bit of stage fright, but also because any pre-performance talk has enormous potential to foster a more personal relationship between the audience and the music they are about to hear. I want my words to accurately and carefully address the issues of the piece, while at the same time conveying a sense of personal warmth. What you say has to get to the heart of your work, but yet contain palpable sincerity and emotion. For me, the most successful formula consists of a brief description of the piece’s inspiration, a simple explanation of one of the work’s key concepts, and an expression of appreciation for the performers, the venue, and the presenters.

Pat Shannon, STREET WORK: PARKING SPACE (ON SITE) (2013), sheet aluminum, 11x18 ft

Pat Shannon, STREET WORK: PARKING SPACE (PARTIAL STUDIO VIEW) (2013), aluminum sheet, 11x18 ft

Pat Shannon, visual artist
Writing or speaking about my work often feels like taking a step out from inside the art to offer others a way in. I prefer to talk about the questions that fuel my curiosity and process rather than attempting to explain the work. My goal is to allow people a way to get closer to the work while still having their own experience.

The Street Works project started with my reflections on touch as the most intimate sense, which then led me to form a key question: “What would happen if I choose a site and set up a system to literally feel my way across it? What would it mean to know – and record – a place by touch?”

I began taking rubbed impressions of the street in response to this question, so I guess you could say that communicating that question to others conveys something about the “Why?” of the work. I’m the only person who can account for why I made something. When I look at other artists’ work, I’m always curious about their inner reasons. “What motivated them to make this??”

As a visual artist, learning how to speak publicly or write about my work in a way that adds something more without distracting from the art is always a challenge, yet often one that furthers my own understanding of the work.

Paul Matteson, choreographer
I know it is important to talk and write about my creative work and myself as an artist, yet I am often resistant to public opportunities. I tell myself that my artistry is a fragile relationship with doubt and that addressing it critically will disrupt my growth. In truth, I am afraid that I am not smart enough to have a scholarly perspective. Also, it is hard work! Recently while preparing for an artist talk at the Salt Dance Festival, I saw in the mess of my index cards the potential to contemplate a searching life. I think the timing was right. A midlife view helped me add context to my naïve history as an aspiring dancer. I framed the talk as a type of self-reckoning with all of my intertwining influences, which allowed me to simply talk about everyone who has inspired me. And in the act of acknowledging others, there was the affirming realization that I have always had the intention to go as deep as possible.

Linda K. Wertheimer, writer
Speaking, like writing, is an art form. It takes work to woo an audience, and my goal is to fashion engaging talks that rely on more than just reading passages from my book. I’m a reading junkie, and authors that keep me listening tell their back stories. They spend more time chatting about why they wrote their book than they do reading what I can easily find on the page. They take me along on their literary journeys whether they are novelists or nonfiction writers. They sometimes use interesting props, like the model of an old stage wagon author E.B. Moore displayed as she talked about her novel set in Amish country. Or they show historical footage, like author Lou Ureneck did as he described a dramatic rescue of Armenians. I took hundreds of photos on reporting trips around the country for Faith Ed and will include some in my talks. “Reading” for me is a misnomer. I consider a book talk a dialogue with the audience. If I do my job well, hands will fly with questions and comments. I don’t want to be the only one talking.

Cover art from FAITH ED (Beacon Press 2015) by Linda K. Wertheimer


Matthew Gamber‘s photography was recently included in In/Sight at the Lunder Arts Center at Lesley University and has also exhibited at Gallery Kayafas, the deCordova Sculpture Park and Museum, Flash Forward Festival, and Fitchburg Art Museum. Through the first week of August, he posted photos on Instagram on behalf of Self Publish, Be Happy.

Paul Matteson is a Five College Assistant Professor of Dance. In June, he taught at the Salt Dance Festival in Utah and co-created the NOW Festival with Jennifer Polins, Andrea Olsen, and Peter Schmitz in Amherst, MA.

Composer Stefanie Lubkowski‘s piece for the bass clarinet/marimba duo Transient Canvas will be premiered at The Record Company in Boston (9/12, 8 PM), and her chamber orchestra piece “Bliss Whispers” will be premiered by the EQ Ensemble at the Cambridge YMCA (10/15, 7:30 PM).

Pat Shannon is a visual artist working in sculpture, conceptual art, and interdisciplinary forms. Her work is exhibiting in “VILLISSIMA! Des artistes et des villes,” at the Hôtel des Arts, Toulon France (thru 9/27).

Linda K. Wertheimer is a journalist and author of Faith Ed, Teaching About Religion In An Age of Intolerance, (Beacon Press, Aug. 18). Linda’s first public reading for the book will be on 8/18, 7 PM, at Porter Square Books in Cambridge. She will speak at 7 PM on 8/25 at Tewksbury Library as part of the library’s summer author series. Find more:

Images: Matthew Gamber, 3D GLASSES (2010), Digital Silver Gelatin Print, 20×24 in; two images from Pat Shannon’s STREET WORK project (2013); cover art from FAITH ED (Beacon Press 2015) by Linda K. Wertheimer.

Discussion Series for Artists/Parents

Monday, May 11th, 2015

Paige Wallis, THE UKULELE LESSON (2010), acrylic, 30x24 in

How to be an artist and a parent?

Greg Cook and Tim Devin (artists and parents, both) are gathering voices to discuss this very question. Two upcoming events geared towards creative folks (artists/musicians/you-name-it) who have kids will focus on the unique challenges of having children and an artistic career, and trying to make it all work.

The first event (free and open to the public) takes place at the Malden Public Library on Tuesday, May 12, 2015, 7 PM. It features three artists discussing how to juggle parent-/artisthood: James Montford (his mid-career survey, James Montford: Persuasions, 1990-2015, is on view at the Boston Center for the Arts through 6/21), Stacy Thomas-Vickory, and Paige Wallis.

The second event (also free and open to the public) takes place at the Somerville Public Library on Saturday, May 30, 2015, 2-4 PM, and features Jef Czekaj, Trudi Cohen, and Jennifer Johnson.

Greg Cook and Tim Devin will serve as hosts for both events.

These events are just the beginning of the discussion. More about the events and the project at large at How to Be an Artist and a Parent.

Image: Paige Wallis, THE UKULELE LESSON (2010), acrylic, 30×24 in” alt=”Paige Wallis, THE UKULELE LESSON (2010), acrylic, 30×24 in.

Vote on Tuesday, November 4th

Monday, November 3rd, 2014


ArtSake encourages you to vote tomorrow, Tuesday, November 4th. Find out where to vote and learn more about the candidates and the 4 ballot questions. Because we live in a democratic society, it’s our civic responsibility as citizens to vote. Exercise your rights.

Image credit: Photograph from Rock the Vote.

Tips on Applying for an MCC Artist Fellowship

Thursday, August 14th, 2014

Stephanie Chubbuck, TWO (2013), blown and coldworked ruby glass, forged copper, mixed media, 18x14x7 in

In the Massachusetts Cultural Council Artist Fellowship Program, we instruct our panelists to make their grants decisions based on two criteria*:

  1. Artistic quality
  2. Creative ability

Given that all decisions are based solely on artistic excellence, you might conclude that the best advice might be, as Neil Gaiman put it in a commencement address at the University of the Arts, “Make good art.”

And Mr. Gaiman has a point. Do make good art. But we thought we’d share some ideas on optimizing your application, which really means avoiding choices that might distract panelists from how well you’ve adhered to Neil Gaiman’s advice.

(We’re not even going to mention that you should carefully read – and follow – the guidelines, and that you should familiarize yourself with the guidelines and instructions ahead of time, so you’re not rushing on the evening of the deadline.)

Which work samples should I submit?

Since the work sample(s) you submit are the only evidence the panelists will have to understand you as an artist, what you decide to include is an important choice. That said, don’t overthink it. Rather than trying to guess the judges’ tastes, just send your strongest work. Truly. Individual panelists have stylistic preferences, but you can expect arts professionals working at a high level to be able to recognize excellence in a style not their own.

How do you know what’s your “strongest” work? If you have any question, enlist the opinion of a trusted peer, whose objective distance from the work could be helpful.

We ask for recent work (past four years), but it doesn’t necessarily have to be your brand-spankin’-newest. You might be most excited about your newest work, but is it your strongest? (And maybe it is! Here’s where the opinion of a trusted peer might be useful.) What if you want to send the same work you sent the last time you applied – work that didn’t win you a fellowship? If you still consider it your strongest, send it again. The panelists change every cycle, and plenty of times, we’ve seen work that was passed over one cycle be successful the next.

One question we often get is whether it’s better to send a group of excerpts from different work (to show range) or a longer section of just one. In visual arts, the equivalent might be five images from different series vs. five from the same series.

Illustrating your range as an artist can be helpful, but in your hierarchy of considerations, “showing range” should come second to “giving the panelists a great artistic experience.” Ideally, your sample will compel the panelists as it would any audience, while conveying your unique voice as an artist. Successful applicants tend to excel at demonstrating a cohesive vision – with room for variety.

Start strong. The beginning of your sample – first image, first pages, first few minutes – makes an impression that impacts the entire experience. Also, if you’re sending an excerpt of a longer work, send a meaty part. If the portion you send is all set-up, the panelists might say, “Well, it’s good craft, but how do I know this artist can effectively develop this?”

(Further research: the Creative Capital blog has some great tips on choosing your work sample. While some of the advice is tailored for that organization’s grant application, much of it could apply to any artist grant.)

Preparing Your Work

Please note that for visual arts disciplines (Crafts, Drawing & Printmaking, Painting, Photography, and Sculpture/Installation/New Genres), we use the CallforEntry (CaFE) application system. You’ll need digital versions of your art to upload. For tips on photographing your art, check out Saatchi Online’s easy-to-follow tutorial video.

In disciplines that ask for pages: readability is your friend. Avoid diminishing margins and fonts just to fit more in. More is not better.

If your work is interactive, conceptual, or performance-based, think hard about how to best convey to the panel in a compressed time period what your intended art experience is. A past application that achieved this very well was by Rosalyn Driscoll and Sarah Bliss, who applied collaboratively in Sculpture/Installation/New Genres.

This clip makes great use of video to convey the experience of a this immersive, site-specific installation, Poetics of Skin. For one thing, it’s shot with an artist’s eye. And by showing numerous variations in the way its audience might experience with the work, the video successfully captures the depth and richness of it.

(Further research: read ArtSake’s post on documenting your work.)

Work Sample Description

In all categories, applicants have the opportunity to include a brief work sample description to give, if necessary, context to the submitted sample(s). We believe the Work Sample Descriptions can be useful. But sometimes panelists complain that descriptions are distracting when they read like self-promotional marketing copy, or when they spell out themes or emotional responses that should be implicit in the art experience.

Well then what is the MCC looking for with this Work Sample Description? As one panelist put it, the Work Sample Description should invite us into the world of the work. Put yourself in the panelists’ shoes: sitting in a meeting room, reading a sample or experiencing your work projected or played. Things that would be obvious in a book or a gallery or a performance venue may not be obvious in that context. Any time panelists spend wondering how they’re “supposed” to be experiencing your work is time they’re not discussing its good qualities. Even details that seem self-evident to you – for instance, whether your work is a full piece or an excerpt from something longer – may not be clear to someone approaching your work without context.

Beyond that? Be brief, including only enough information to allow reviewers to understand the piece. And if your work needs no explanation, don’t feel you need to fill in the box. No description is fine, if none is needed!

Samuel Rowlett, LANDSCAPE PAINTING IN THE EXPANDED FIELD, canvas, oil, wood, backpack, harness, a walk in the woods, 12x6x2 ft

The X factor

There’s always a touch of mystery to what makes a particular work click with a particular audience. It’s a given that the level of artistic quality should be high, but what makes a juror (or any audience) love love LOVE it? To some extent, it’s an X factor, out of your control. So we’d suggest you control what you can, avoid distracting application choices, and continue to do your great work.

And email us or add a comment below if you have a question not covered here.

Image and media: Stephanie Chubbuck (Crafts Fellow ’15), TWO (2013), blown and coldworked ruby glass, forged copper, mixed media, 18x14x7 in; video of POETICS OF SKIN by Rosalyn Driscoll and Sarah Bliss (Sculpture/Installation/New Genres Fellows ’15); Samuel Rowlett (Sculpture/Installation/New Genres Fellow ’15), LANDSCAPE PAINTING IN THE EXPANDED FIELD, canvas, oil, wood, backpack, harness, a walk in the woods, 12x6x2 ft.

* Except in the case of Traditional Arts, which has additional criteria.

Artists on How They Get By

Monday, June 30th, 2014

On June 4, 2014, a group of artists are convened at Lesley University in Cambridge for an event called How We Get By, about the realities and struggles of artists’ financial lives.

Tim Devin, one of the event organizers and a past guest blogger for ArtSake on copyright issues, has written this guest post about what transpired on June 4 and where the “getting by” conversation is headed next.

How do artists make a living in our increasingly-expensive city? That’s something Jason Pramas, Matt Kaliner, and I started talking about recently. Artists don’t really like to talk about how they make money, since it usually has very little to do with their creative work. They avoid the issue for a variety of reasons, but the largest one is that they want to project an image of being a successful artist, and the current notion of what a successful artist is involves making money from your work.

This situation, of course, creates a number of problems. If you don’t know how other people get by, then you’ll never know about other ways you could be doing it yourself. And since people don’t like to share the fact that they often subsidize their creative work with money earned from day jobs, then it’s never clear how effective the standard grant and gallery systems are at supporting the region’s creative output financially. And perhaps most importantly, it leaves unexamined the assumption that successful art is defined by the revenue it generates.

Jason, Matt and I thought it might be good to get a group of artists get together, and share information on how they get by. We felt that having people speak publicly about this would raise these issues nicely, and get people talking about changes that could be made, and about other ways to get by as an artist in Boston.

We were lucky enough to get a raft of amazing people to speak, each with a different viewpoint and approach to making ends meet. Artists included Andi Sutton, Coelynn McIninch, Dave Ortega, Dirk Adams, Emily Garfield, Greg Cook, Heather Kapplow, and Shea Justice. Two of us organizers, Jason Pramas and myself, also spoke. We also invited Melinda Cross, who is involved in an artist housing coop to talk about that as an option, and Gregory Jenkins, who is the executive director of the Somerville Arts Council. Matt Kaliner moderated the discussion.

Lesley University hosted the event, and almost 100 people came to learn about other ways of getting by. Ho Yin Au and Ellien Laramee-Byers were the photographers. Ironically – or tellingly – since we couldn’t get a budget, everyone involved (photographers, speakers, and us organizers alike) worked as volunteers.

Getting by
The discussion was pretty wide-ranging. One issue that kept coming up was juggling paid work with creative work.

Andi Sutton, who works at a local university, said that she came to terms with the need for a day job early on, and now views herself as having two careers. She said that she is lucky to have an understanding boss, who affords her a certain amount of flexibility when she needs to do something for her art. Far from being a barrier, Shea Justice spoke about working as an art teacher as a benefit to his creative work. He draws energy from his kids, and often goes to museums on field trips. Both talked about the benefits of stable jobs.

But many of us exist in more precarious ways. Dirk Adams, who installs art shows, spoke about how unsteady his jobs are — opportunities often come up at the same time, forcing him to choose one over the others, after long dry spells of no income. He said that having to hustle for paid work draws energy away from his creative work. Heather Kapplow goes through cycles where she works a lot and saves up, and then works freelance sparingly and tries to keep as much of her time for her art. She said that a few scheduled freelance projects fell through recently without much warning, forcing her to make some difficult choices.

Jason Pramas, who is 47, told us that he had started working at 16, but had only been able to find a steady full-time job for six of those years. I read a statement from an anonymous artist/musician who is lucky enough to own her own two-family house, but can’t afford decent health care on her intermittent income from her creative work and the money she gets from renting her upstairs unit. She worries about what will happen to her as she ages and incurs more medical expenses.

Which touches on one of the central themes of the night: frustration. Frustrations with the economy in general, with the area’s high cost of living, and with the art world. Greg Cook pointed out that so much of the existing art system doesn’t work for you if you have a job. For instance, who can afford to do residencies? They involve traveling somewhere, and not working a paying job for weeks if not months on end, in exchange for space to create but very little financial compensation. Heather Kapplow said that since she does conceptual art, she has difficulty making money off of her work, since there are few mechanisms to support conceptual art financially. Personally, my work has never been a big income-generator, so I tend to make things inexpensively so I can keep doing what I want to do. But I worry what would happen if I wanted to branch out and make other kinds of art — would I be able to afford it?

Other speakers shared how they cope with the high costs of living in the area. Dave Ortega and Greg Cook both talked about personal thrift as a way to get by. For example, Dave spoke of his own “Thoreau-inspired lifestyle” which includes sharing a small apartment, and not owning a car. But the region is consistently listed as one of the most expensive places to live in, and rents keep going up, so these solutions may be only temporary. Dave, who lives in Somerville near the proposed Green Line extension, wondered how much longer he’ll be able to afford living there. Coelynn McIninch suggested people consider Fitchburg as an alternative, and told us about the area’s affordable apartments and studio spaces.

Mutual aid is another good way to cut expenses. Melinda Cross spoke about the two coops she’s involved in: a long-standing residential coop, and a relatively new papermaking coop she formed. Both help participants save money, while at the same time building strong bonds that can be called on when you need support from others. Coelynn told us that she often trades her photography services with other artists when she needs their help. She said you don’t have to be best friends with people you exchange help with, which provides for more exchanges, since you’re not limited by your friendship circles. The audience loved this idea, and during the discussion portion someone floated the idea of a website where artists could offer and exchange services. Jason talked about the need for creative workers to organize in their own political and economic self-interest—pointing to the Boston Visual Artists Union of the 1970s as a relevant historical model.

Underlying a lot of these issues is the notion of identity. In a culture where who you are is often gauged by how you earn your keep, this places people who identify as artists but don’t make much money at it in a tricky situation. Coelynn took this issue head on by saying point blank “Never apologize for what you have to do to make your art possible,” a statement that brought on a round of applause — showing that the artists in the room were concerned about validation as much as they were about economics.

Greg Jenkins ended the night by speaking from the perspective of an arts organization. He stressed that artists needed to prove why communities should support them. He pointed out that a lot of this discussion stems from bigger problems – the economy, the recession, the art world. He suggested that artists identify specific problems, and work with arts organizations on solving them; “that’s what we’re here for,” he said.

The night raised a number of issues, the most important being how little money is in the art system right now. A lot of people said that they were both surprised and reassured to learn that so many artists are in the same boat as they are. Many said that they always assumed other artists were doing a lot better financially, and that they themselves just needed to try harder, or catch the right breaks, to make it. Creative people often do things for free to build their CVs, but as we learned, even artists who show internationally don’t really make much money. This is something we might want to reexamine.

The question then becomes: what do we do with all of this information? The day after the event, we organizers set up a group page on Facebook to discuss the event. Over 200 people joined immediately, and started a lively discussion. People shared dozens of articles and thoughts and ideas on how to change things.

This energy led to a second meeting, also at Lesley, on June 25th, to determine if people wanted to start an artist-led organization. Over 40 people showed up, and the 2 ½ hour discussion ranged from reexamining the role of the artist in the community, to talks about alternative economics; from tips on the best way to pressure politicians, to talks about housing and grants, and ideas on alternative venues and ways of reaching people.

A third meeting is being planned for July 16th, to discuss what kind of organization or organizations everyone involved wants to form. There don’t seem to be any hard answers right now — or rather, there are dozens of views about what the problems actually are, so having everyone agree on an answer is moot — but the questions being raised are exciting. While no one questions the support we all get from existing arts organizations, the spirit in the air seems to be that maybe the missing element is something that we artists can do for ourselves, if we band together. Maybe by banding together, we can all figure out another way to get by.

Further research:
How to find funding as a Massachusetts individual artist
What makes for a good day job as an artist?

Tim Devin‘s projects deal with community and social change. His work has been included in art and urbanist shows across the US, Canada, and Europe, and have been featured in such news sources as NPR, CBC and, more locally, the Boston Globe. He’s the chair of the board of the Somerville Arts Council, which is part of MCC’s local cultural council network.

Images: Tim Devin, Andi Sutton, Heather Kapplow, Dirk Adams, Dave Ortega, Melinda Cross, Gregory Jenkins, Emily Garfield, photo by Ho Yin Au; Andi Sutton, Heather Kapplow, Dirk Adams, Dave Ortega, Melinda Cross, Gregory Jenkins, Emily Garfield, Greg Cook, Shea Justice, Jason Pramas. Standing on right: Tim Devin, Matt Kaliner. Photo by Ho Yin Au; Jason Pramas, photo by Ho Yin Au; Dave Ortega, Melinda Cross, Gregory Jenkins, Emily Garfield, Greg Cook, photo by Ellien Laramee-Byers; Shea Justice, Coelynn McIninch, photo by Ho Yin Au; Dave Ortega, Melinda Cross, Gregory Jenkins, Emily Garfield, Greg Cook, photo by Ellien Laramee-Byers.