I’ve had the opportunity to talk about an artist’s worth to high schoolers, college students, and individual artists and peers, and the general community that wants to appreciate art, but cannot understand why it would cost so much. Normally, I start with the sticker shock of a piece of art and have an open discussion. And to be clear, I’m not talking about Comedian (AKA Banana Duct Tape to Wall) ridiculous sticker shock. I’m talking about everyday, working artists in our area who depend on a living income.
Then I take that sticker shock price, apply all the essential items that I mentioned above, and ask, “What if that’s the only piece of art that you sell all year? Now what do you do?”
This question is where I find that the conversation gets interesting.
For the general community, they begin to recognize that an artist’s portfolio is vast and takes a certain type of grit to stay in the business. The work a professional artist or creative does is hard, demanding and usually takes two other sustainable jobs to produce what we can for the public. We have no safety net, and we depend on our business know-how to make sure that we can still create despite the expenses.
When I present this conversation to young artists and creatives, or those who need a check-in, I mostly see artists of all disciplines have trouble understanding their financial worth. “It seemed like a good price for what I was giving them,” is an answer that clues me in that the artist had not broken down their expenses, and it’s an answer I’m all too familiar with. Even now, students graduating with BFAs and MFAs may have taken one or two classes about financial literacy and mostly no grant proposal training in their toolbox. If artists and creatives never had formal business training in college, they tend to rely on second-hand information, or they create an inaccurate formula based on what the contractor is offering.
When Phase III passed for the CARES Act, it allowed for artists, creatives, the gig economy and freelancers to access support that we have never had before, such as unemployment and certain loans.
Unfortunately, because we never had it before there is no system federally or in our state of Arkansas that existed prior to March 2020 that could tell us how to navigate through these waters. Bureaucracies are trying to figure it out as quickly as possible, but it’s like asking Godzilla to quietly knit a sweater while balancing on a tightrope between the Eiffel Tower and Big Ben. Godzilla wasn’t created for that sort of niche performing arts career.
How do we determine our financial worth? How do we start leveraging the conversations away from “exposure” to “expect an invoice”? And now with our voices as a collective gig economy, how can we get legislators to start taking our needs seriously so we don’t find ourselves in this situation again?
Let’s just start by talking.