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 29-year-old poet and content creator in the middle of a career transition.
Art Practice: Poet and content creator
Location: Los Angeles, CA
Pronouns: She/ Her
How much do you make?
My previous annual income was $52,000 a year before taxes. I have since left that place of employment to fully focus on my art and content creation. I currently am at $16,200.
What percentage of your income came from your art practice?
Where does the rest of your income come from?
I previously worked for a nonprofit theater based in Santa Monica. I am currently working as a personal assistant to a tattoo artist.
How much are you paid for your freelance work?
I am planning to offer consultation services to other creatives in Los Angeles (roughly $40 a session, the goal is to have at least 10 clients) and am planning to continue to perform my poetry more often for pay.
How do you price your art?
To perform roughly three poems at an event, I’m paid $200 per event.
Housing: I live in a two bedroom with one other housemate. The rent for the entire apartment is $2800 — my contribution to the rent is $1300.
What are your major monthly expenses?
Major monthly expenses would be covering my debts, which totals about $1000 a month.
Do you have any expenses related to your art practice?
Larger financial picture
Do you have any financial support from outside sources?
Have you received any grants to support your art?
I have just begun applying for grants and submitting my poetry for payment — I have not received a grant, but again, I’ve just begun participating in that process.
Do you have health insurance?
I currently do not — that was tied to my previous employment.
Do you have any debt?
Yes, lots of credit card debt, but it is managed. I would not have been able to survive in Los Angeles post-graduating college without access to credit, honestly.
Do you have any savings?
Did you pursue higher education?
I received a Bachelor of Fine Arts from my university.
Any other thoughts?
I am in an incredibly transitional point in both how I labor for resource and how I am committing to my creative practice. I left my nonprofit job at the end of January 2023. It was an incredibly toxic environment and did not seem to be anything I could continue to pour into.
When we talk about bearing something — a burden, we must ask ourselves why we do so, and if it is truly worth it. Many would argue that steady employment is a necessary burden — that financial stability overrides all other needs in the society we exist in.
I am arguing that as I continue this journey of betting on myself and being more intentional and assertive in pursuing compensation for my artistic contributions. I am now in a phase of betting on myself, my skillset, and my community support. I am very unwilling to commit my time, energy, or competency in a space that not only undervalues me but isn’t impacting or supporting the communities that matter to me.
Responses edited lightly for length and clarity.
Could you talk about your sense of financial security as an artist?
I feel that to be able to do my art, feeling a bit unstable about finances is fine. It's just because in this society I just don't feel like artists are seen as the cultural curators that they are and thus aren't compensated for that. But in order to do what I'm passionate about and what makes sense to labor for, I'm willing to navigate the rocky terrain in order to do what I love to do.
You mentioned being in a transitional period, I was curious what caused you to make a leap career-wise?
The nonprofit that I was working for, was a theater and arts nonprofit, and they had brought in a fleet of new people on, as if they were going to allow us to contribute all of our skill set, our perspectives, to this company deciding to be better. And soon we found out that they mostly wanted to stay the same, and that we were essentially hired to maintain something that we didn't believe in. And I just had gotten fed up.
I got fed up because the labor itself honestly wasn't super difficult in working for the theater, but the emotional and spiritual asks were just far too large. I have worked a lot to not uphold an institutionalized space like that. It was a very white privileged space. I just couldn't see myself continuing to help that type of space maintain itself. And so I had to leave. And I also just wasn't being given a compensation or appreciation for what I could offer to the space. And I was seeing that as well with my colleagues, and I just was not about it.
What have been the biggest challenges when it comes to making a living as an artist?
I'd say it's just a matter of one, consistency, but two, art at this point in all of its forms has become really exploitative. Really predatory practices around people who don't have as much resources as others to protect themselves as they navigate these types of spaces. What I've noticed the most is that for artists at any point of their careers, they have to essentially look out for themselves continuously to not be harmed in various ways. I feel like there's some protections in other industries for that. But there's a real predatory, exploitative quality to working in the arts for any period of time, and that can be really challenging.
What kind of resources would help you as an artist, not only to survive but to thrive?
Proper compensation. A proper appreciation of what all of us offer and more information being made public and accessible. I feel like a lot of the harm that artists encounter as they're exploring their craft and making it more of a career, it's a lot of misinformation, a lot of disinformation, a lot of exclusive information. That's what I've witnessed a lot as far as my own experiences and with the creatives in my life. If information about how, what, when, who, was more clear and accurate and honest, people save a lot of time, but also they'd be avoiding a lot of harm. So more accessibility to information that pertains to our crafts, and distributing our crafts. And being compensated for our art.
What does proper compensation look like for you?
Proper compensation at this point to me, honestly, just means to not try to pay someone via exposure, or like through opportunity. To actually give them a resource and to also give the artist the agency to decide how much that is for themselves. I feel like for a lot of us, we're meant to prove ourselves to be compensated, as opposed to more people, more consistently, at every stage of our careers asking — what is your rate? How much do you feel you should be compensated for this, as opposed to the assumption that it should be free, or an opportunity, or for exposure type of thing. So proper compensation has everything to do with that artist having agency over how much they feel they should be compensated, and that not being such a point of like attrition or something to debate too much.
How can pay transparency help artists?
I think tremendously. I have a lot of folks who are content creators, who I feel are definitely artists. And there's this organization called Clara — their entire thing is to offer pay transparency, so that when creators are negotiating with brands, they know how much that brand is actually paying it to make sure it's consistent. Pay transparency is also one of the reasons I ended up leaving my previous job. We finally started talking about how much everybody's getting paid. And someone who was hired at the same time as me was making $15,000 more. So I feel like we're able to exercise our agency if we know exactly how much the budget is, how much people are actually getting paid.
Read more about the Artist Pay Project.