Periodically, we pose questions about issues artists face in their work and lives.
We wanted to revisit a question we first asked in 2016: What issues do you see artists grappling with that don’t often get discussed?
Whether because they’re hard to talk about or because they fly under the radar, some issues just don’t get a lot of open discussion on forums such as this blog. In this post, musician Eduardo Betancourt, writer Regina Hansen, scenic designer Cristina Todesco, and singer Erini share the “seldom-discussed” issues they see.
Regina Hansen, literary artist
People don’t necessarily consider that many, if not most artists, don’t do the job full time. Most of us have day jobs and many of us have loved ones we are caring for – children, grandchildren, sick spouses or partners, elderly relatives and so on. These important demands can keep us away from our art for days, weeks, even years at a time. I think these interruptions – coupled with expectations of productivity that can only be met by people who are able to do their art full time – lead some artists to feel that they can’t claim the title. I think that’s too bad. It takes a lot of courage and love for your discipline to keep returning to it when there are so many important, often urgent, claims on your time and energy. People who can do that are definitely artists.
Erini, jazz and Greek traditional vocalist
Being an immigrant freelance artist can present challenges that are rarely discussed. As a musician originally from Greece, I had to deal with my immigration status. Being a freelancer who does not have a big corporation that could potentially issue a work permit, I had to fund my own visa and spend thousands of dollars in lawyer fees and filing fees. Applying for what they call an “artist” visa can take up to 6 months of paperwork preparation and up to 8 months of waiting time. The stress of the whole process hinders artists’ mental health, physical health, finances and productivity. Thankfully it went well and it enabled me to establish a wonderful performing career across the US. Unfortunately, I have still had to deal with certain institutions who simply did not understand my legal status and refused to pay me. This is a struggle that a lot of my immigrant friends go through. What is more, I am currently stuck abroad due to the Presidential travel bans, because I don’t hold a US passport, which is keeping me away from my Massachusetts home. I took a leap of faith when I made the US my home. It has been an incredible journey and I feel very lucky to have the support of my American friends. I hope I can travel back as soon as possible. In the meantime I continue to connect with my Massachusetts community and live my artistic life through Zoom!
Eduardo Betancourt, harp player and music artist
Something that should get more discussion is unions for artists. I think it would be important to have a special day for information about the Musical Union, a complete guide so that musicians (like me) and many others who are not registered can do it. Because we need to be able to have medical and legal benefits.
I think this would be very beneficial for the music community in Massachusetts.
Cristina Todesco, theater scenic designer
I was recently asked by the city of Boston to provide financial information about the artists and creative small businesses in my studio building in order to find out what the economic impact would be to the city if we were to be displaced. That dollar amount was taken from a healthier year, pre-COVID, and that number is substantial. It was the perfect exercise to do during a pandemic when the work disappeared because it reveals the huge economic loss experienced by so many individuals including myself as a scenic designer in theater. Meanwhile streaming companies, while providing a welcome distraction from this past year’s reality, have been increasing their bottom line substantially by bolstering their content for entertainment. These companies have benefited by the shutdown.
Beyond our front doors, what about art and community, art in community? Yes, we must talk about art in terms of economic impact but what about its impact on public health? Art can happen anywhere, in a theater, in a gallery, in a museum, on our streets and buildings and in our parks. Ultimately, art reflects who we are, clarifying and distilling lived experiences to each other and as much as I believe the community needs art, artists need each other to come together and share their work and experiences. After this year, I hope we haven’t gotten too comfortable in front of our screens where our vision has narrowed and shortened, keeping us from mindfully venturing out into shared spaces, to notice, reflect and feel together.
Eduardo Betancourt is a Grammy-award winning Venezuelan musician, producer, arranger, composer, instructor, and multi-instrumentalist, known for his mastery of the harp. His most recent album is Ad Libitum.
Regina Hansen is an author whose debut novel The Coming Storm will be published by Atheneum Books/Simon & Schuster in June 2021. There will be a virtual book launch event 6/1 at Porter Square Books on 6/1, 7 PM.
Cristina Todesco is a theater scenic designer. Recently she worked with other artists in her studio building Humphrey Street Studio (HSS) in Uphams Corner, Dorchester, to create the exhibition OUR HEART. The show, which includes HSS tenants as well as other artists who live/work in Dorchester, is now on view.
Erini (Erini Tornesaki) is a vocalist of jazz and Greek traditional music who has performed at the Panama Jazz Festival, Carnegie Hall, and more, including touring with Cirque de Soleil. Visit her on Instagram @erinimusic.