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 25-year-old multidisciplinary 2D, 3D, and curatorial artist who earns $37,000 a year.
Art Practice: 2D (paintings, collages, drawings, prints, and multimedia), 3D (assemblages, arrangements, sculptures, ceramics, furniture/wares), curatorial
Location: Chicago, IL
Pronouns: She/ Her
Income: Monthly varies widely. Annual — $37,000
How much of your income is from your art practice?
Where does the rest of your income come from?
My day job is working in administration for a museum.
How much are you paid for your freelance or contract work?
Two separate creative/artistic consultancy contract positions with advocacy organizations that count as freelance/self-employed work for $4,000. Additionally, creative/artistic consulting for a start-up for $3,000.
How do you price your art?
All of my pieces are custom, one of a kind, handmade works of art and will be priced differently. My pricing reflects this formula: "(Hourly Wage (which is $30) × Hours Spent) + Production Cost)." I do not offer sliding scale prices at this time, I hope to be able to do so ASAP. However, I typically have the most sales at local art fairs, which subtracts the gallery's commission cost from my profit.
My lowest priced work is $5 (most of my paintings and several ceramics) and my highest is a dining table for $300. There are plenty of mid-points, such as botanical arrangements for $25 to 100, and smaller tables for $150 to 200.
$800 per month for assessments (HOA/Insurance). I own a co-op apartment and have a $150 a month mortgage payment and pay another $100 a month in electric and internet. I do however split the assessments and utilities with a roommate bringing my total monthly housing costs to $450 a month.
What are your major monthly expenses?
Gas and groceries, which vary widely but average is $300 a month.
Do you have any expenses related to your art practice?
Additional art supplies — $50 a month.
Larger financial picture
Do you have any financial support from outside sources?
My partner basically pays for all my food and social life.
Have you received any grants to support your art?
Applied but not yet accepted
Do you have health insurance?
Do you have any debt?
$25,000 of student loan debt, $900 in credit card debt, and some medical bills I haven’t been able to pay
Do you have any savings?
Did you pursue higher education?
Anything else you’d like to share?
It certainly has been the starving artist experience, but thankfully fruitful enough to keep me motivated, though I will say I identify with many low income struggles, one emergency/car breakdown/something at home breaks and I’m broke.
Responses edited lightly for length and clarity.
How do you feel about your financial security right now?
In this moment, I feel pretty poorly about it. I will say that this feeling varies throughout the year a lot just because of the nature of when I have work versus when I don't. And right now, a lot of the work that I'm doing is unpaid, and not tied to an organization. So I am looking for something a little bit more steady to help me maintain my practice.
What are the biggest challenges you face when it comes to making a living?
One of the largest challenges that I'm running into — especially this year in 2023 — I found that the abundance of people who are requesting projects and the need for artists is present. There are definitely calls for artists, and companies and clients and institutions that are desiring work. But there isn't really enough funding to go around and pay people who are doing that. So in my experience, I'm being called to either create a workshop or create a piece, or consult a creative direction for an organization, and the stipend doesn't necessarily match the work.
And there aren't enough grants or opportunities for individual artists to secure funding. For example, if for my professional development, I wanted to do a residency, maybe the residency provides a small stipend for getting around the city, but what about getting to the city or getting the art materials that you need to create the art? I've been struggling to find funding sources for that. Which would greatly improve professional development and furthering my practice and things like that.
What would equitable pay look like for you? What do you need to live comfortably for the work you’re doing?
If I were to sell some of my pieces to a gallery, in my experience, and in many artists’ experiences, the gallery takes a commission from that. But when they take the work, they do price it at the value that it is if I was to sell it individually. So that means that I'm taking a loss by the gallery taking the commission. I would love to see equity and if they need the commission — because I get it, nonprofits and other organizations need to keep their lights on too — raise the price to match what the commission would be. So if it is 30%, add that 30% on to the price that you're selling the work for.
Additionally, having stipends match — and I've seen some organizations do this well — but having a formula for stipends. Like how many times do you think someone would need to use the bus per day at your residency? How much is food in our city? And having a quantified formula for determining the stipend as opposed to just throwing a number like $1,000 because oh, that sounds like a nice, even, crisp number. Maybe it's not best to follow aesthetics, and instead go for equity in terms of actual quantifiable and tangible formulas to determine pay and creating those actual numbers.
What types of resources would help when it comes to making a living as an artist?
Immediately what I'm thinking about is a centralized area for artists to go, or funders to go. Some kind of matchmaking service for artists and funders to match up to get extra grant money or organizations to get grant money to create their stipends for the residencies. Or for their consultancy budgets, etc.
On the medical front, I do want to say, I know you asked the question if I have health insurance. I don't and I think that would also tie back to equity and what I would like to see be offered to artists in some way, shape, or form. I've never seen anything tied from art to healthcare at all.
Read more about the Artist Pay Project.