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 26-year-old collage artist and archivist who makes $35,000 a year.
Art Practice: Collage, archivist, image maker
Location: Chicago, IL
Pronouns: They/ Them
$35,000 a year
How much of your income is from your art practice?
Where does the rest of your income come from?
I work full time as a teacher. At this time my salary does not accommodate the current cost of living. To make up for the additional cost, I teach after school, serve, sell art, and occasionally turn to mutual aid to cover the cost.
How do you price your art?
My work ranges from $12 to $250. Zines and prints are usually $12 to $20. Original collages are $250.
$250 for shared rent
What are your major monthly expenses?
Credit card bill: $140
Hospital bill: $350
Do you have any expenses related to your art practice?
No, I work at a school so a lot of my supplies come from the school.
Larger financial picture
Do you have any financial support from outside sources?
Have you received any grants to support your art?
2022 Orange Tangent Study grant: $300
2022 Chicago Creative Assistant grant: $2,500
Do you have health insurance?
Do you have any debt?
Yes. Hospital bill is currently at 3,000.
Do you have any savings?
Did you pursue higher education?
Yes. I am waiting to hear back from a few graduate programs to either pursue of a Master of Science to become an archivist or Print Media to expand my printmaking practice.
Responses edited lightly for length and clarity.
How do you feel about your financial security right now?
I'm in distress. But as an artist, I knew when I chose this profession that would be a downside, always hustling to make ends meet, especially as I am applying to law school as well.
What led to that decision? And how do you envision balancing your art practice with law in the future?
I have three reasons why I want to apply to law school. One, I was a victim of a hate crime, as a Black, gay, nonbinary individual in 2021. Due to the lack of transparency I received from my public defenders, I had to seek out my own legal advocate who essentially would come to court for me when I had to work and also make sure my public defenders would get in contact with me and keep me updated. And if they were not able, that legal advocate would take on that role to ensure that I was hearing back from at least someone. And that got me thinking — I wonder how many queer, or queer, trans people of color have gone through something similar, and who were going through the court process and were given a public defender when we can't afford a lawyer?
Another reason I'm applying to law school is, I seek to end the criminalization of cannabis within the United States right now, predominantly, those who are serving time for cannabis charges are black and brown people.
Then lastly, as a gay individual, and as someone who's nonbinary, there's been a lot of laws passed that are seeking to make it almost impossible for us to exist as people. I want to be one of those people who fight against that narrative. Also, there needs to be more Black, queer neurodivergent lawyers, so that people who are like that, who are receiving help within a legal system see themselves represented.
I'm really sorry experienced that. Do you envision yourself practicing art and law at the same time?
I do plan on continuing to practice art. Art has always been like a self-care practice for me, and it's something I've always enjoyed doing and will continue to do. I'm also aware that with law school, I will most likely have to slow down, but that doesn't mean that I have to completely stop producing work.
Your day job is teaching. Can you talk a little bit about what kind of teaching you do?
I'm an assistant teacher at a Montessori school. My role is to assist the head teacher. I also assist the first grade phonics and math as well. I work 7:30 to 3:30 every day, and my primary role is to assist the head teacher with whatever they need in terms of the classroom. And that is what I do five days out of the week. It is a salary.
How do you juggle your art making with your full time job teaching?
No, not really. At one point I was working two jobs at the school and I decided that I no longer wanted to work two jobs at the school and instead wanted to apply for graduate schools. So I decided to quit one job and I've had way more time to do the art I want to do.
What are the biggest challenges you face when it comes to making a living and making your art?
Being able to afford supplies is for sure one of them. Paying for application fees is one of them. Trying to make time to go see people who are doing portfolio views. There have been a lot of exhibitions that I couldn't afford, because I just didn't have the $30 or $50 application fee, because I needed that money to go to work. Finances have been a big one for sure. But I just make ends meet by really leaning on do it yourself culture, as someone who very much relates with punk culture. I try to see what resources are out there for me in terms of finding other needs.
What resources, what support for artists would help you the most?
I wish there were more grants and fellowships that didn't ask for you to pay an application fee. And if there there is an application needed to pay the jury, then there should be money set aside for waivers for those of us who can't afford to pay. I feel like that would be a big game changer for sure.
On your survey, you mentioned applying to grad programs for archival work or print media. Are you also applying to law school in addition to those other programs?
The library school I was going to, they had quite a few faculty members go on strike. Which made me think maybe I shouldn't go to school there, if you have a certain quantity of teachers going on strike. In terms of print media, I was accepted, but I was not accepted with funding, which I need the funding to go to the school. There's scholarships for print media, but not a lot. I decided another passion of mine was to go to law school, especially since I've been a part of a prison abolitionist group for the past three years. That has been a motivator to go on and pursue other things that aren't art.
I can be an artist, archivist, and a lawyer. Just because I'm not going to library school right now, doesn't mean I can't go in the future.
How do you think being an artist will impact you as a lawyer?
I'm not entirely sure, because I'm not in the program yet, but I'm feeling that I might make more social commentary work on what I'm learning.
Do you have any thoughts on how being transparent about pay and wages can help other artists?
It would be nice to have more salary transparency. Most of the artists I know, we all work day jobs. Many of us work as educators, none of us are getting paid enough at one job. So many of us have two or three jobs to make ends meet, while many of the people in leadership are making two, three times more than we are. So I would love salary transparency.
At one point, I was in a museum and exhibition program and a cohort member of mine did a project about salary transparency within museums, and how you should have conversations about salary transparency, because let's say there's two people doing the same role, and one person is getting paid more. Then naturally, I would want to advocate for the other person to get paid the same as the person who's get paid more than them.
Read more about the Artist Pay Project.