The Artist Pay Project is a series exploring how artists in the U.S. survive and thrive amid a cost of living crisis.
This Artist $napshot tells the story of a 23-year-old dance artist who makes about $4,000 a month.
Art Practice: Dance teacher, dance administrator, choreographer, and freelance dancer
Location: Austin, TX
Pronouns: She/ Her
Around $4,000 monthly
How much of your income is from your art practice?
Where does the rest of your income come from?
Academic tutoring, I make about $3,000 a month from this work
How much did you make from recent gig work related to your art practice?
I make $600 and around $300 per contract with my 2 most frequent dance companies. For individuals who book me for privates, I charge between $40 to 75 an hour.
I live in a house that my boyfriend owns; we also have a roommate. I pay $400 a month for rent plus utilities.
What are your major monthly expenses?
I pay $125 a month for my Brazilian jiu-jitsu gym membership, $60 a month for my boxing gym membership, and tolls alone cost me about $80 a month, not including gas.
Do you have any expenses related to your art practice?
I charge my clients any studio rental fees, so my only expense is my music subscription $10 a month.
Larger financial picture
Do you have any financial support from outside sources?
Living with my boyfriend means that many expenses get informally split or shared, like groceries, food, gas. And I have a discounted rent.
Have you received any grants to support your art?
Do you have health insurance?
Yes, I am still under my mom’s plan.
Do you have any debt?
Do you have any savings?
Yes, I have about a total of $30,000 in savings.
Did you pursue higher education?
I have a bachelor’s degree from UT Austin.
Responses edited lightly for length and clarity.
How do you feel about your financial security overall?
Income from dance — especially the freelance part — is not very secure and I try not to rely on that as income. All of the stuff that I make through my freelance contracts, I tried to have that be extra income. So my other stuff, like tutoring and teaching is my more stable base. But even with that, my tutoring is still considered independent contracting. There are still times where I go through lulls and don't make as much money as I should. It's definitely a bit wobbly, but it's part of independent contracting. Nothing surprising, it's just stuff I have to put up with if want to keep on doing these types of jobs.
In your survey, you say about 30% of your income is from your art practice. In the future, would you like to see that shift to a higher percentage?
Actually, not really. I never really started dancing professionally or for money. It all happened by accident. I started doing it in college for fun and opportunities kept on coming, and I just kept on taking jobs. So it was never an explicit goal of mine to be a professional artist. I've just been riding the wave as it comes. In the long term, I might even see that percentage go down when I take a full time corporate job or a more traditional job. I don't really have big goals to be a full time professional artist with 100% income [coming from art].
Is there a specific reason for not wanting to be a full-time artist?
Just the practicality of it. If you are a performer and choreographer, the security is not really there because it's job by job. And teaching full time is just exhausting. It's hard to get all of your income from teaching because it just takes so much out of you. Then other things, like getting benefits — you don't get any insurance, you don't get any PTO from dance. If I want to go take a vacation I have to be okay with — if I take two weeks off then I don't make any money those two weeks, and that I'm okay and able to afford the trip.
If there were resources where artists were supported in those ways, with a livable, steady wage, and benefits — would you be more open to pursuing art full time?
It might make me consider it more. Another thing that makes me do a lot of things at once, and not dance full time, is I just like doing multiple things. I like that half of my job or a big percentage of my job is tutoring, which is something way different and uses different parts of my brain and different responsibilities from dance. I might maybe consider it more, but I might still have that urge to just be doing different things.
In your experience with the dance community in Austin, do you find that most people have jobs outside of dance to make it work?
Yeah, for sure. Especially since the dance community in Austin is really small. There's no big New York City Ballet, or big franchise dance scene, or anything with a huge budget. Everybody's going through the same sort of struggles. We're all applying to the same grants, we’re all applying to the same city funding, so we all definitely empathize with each other and are doing other things to make it work. I do know a few who do it full time, but it's definitely a handful, an exception in this city.
How much money do you think you need to live comfortably?
It's a hard question because it's like, that situation of where the more money you make, the more expensive your lifestyle becomes to adapt with it. You just never really feel like your salary is enough, because you're spending more money to meet it. I don't really dream of ever making six figures, that's not a big goal of mine. Maybe like halfway, like 75,000? I don't know, it’s just a random number. For me, the more money I make, the more dogs I get. So just count how many dogs I have in 10 years.
As a full time freelancer, how you deal with taxes?
I've been really fortunate because my mom has this tax person that she pays to do all of our taxes. I've been really fortunate to have that support. Actually, this year will be the first year that I'm gonna be doing my own taxes, which is kind of scary because I think in 2022, I had 8 1099s, like eight tax forms all of my different contracts, so we'll see how it goes.
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