I’m an artist and a curator. I work at a small museum in the desert of Southern California. I like my job and I get to put together cool art exhibits and events, but I also yearn to operate my own art space. I’m young, I have to work, I have debt from college, and I don’t have money to move wherever I want…
So, these are supposed to be anonymous contributions but I’m not going to comply with that because one of the reasons that we as cultural producers fail to organize — or even communicate — effectively around economic issues is because we’re taught to believe that funding is a private concern, a lack of money is shameful, and payment is linked so conclusively to merit that further knowledge can’t possibly benefit, or harm, any potential laborer.
Since I graduated from art school things have gone pretty good. I’ve found interesting people to collaborate with, my friends with crappy part-time jobs have invited me to come to speak to their college classes (for pay ranging from $50-$500) even though they know my lame ass cannot return the favor, and I’ve developed my skills as an arts writer, editor, event planner, and administrator to a point where sometimes people pay me to do these things.
Between my BFA and MFA I waited tables and worked in the floral industry to support myself. I dropped waitressing during and after MFA and worked exclusively for flower shops; I was also a TA while in school. Eventually I started working free-lance floral, getting larger wedding accounts and making decent money while starting to exhibit my art. At some point I decided that I would like to have my life be more streamlined (or so I thought) and teach so that I could be more engaged in the academic art community and have my ‘job’ have more of a specific parallel to my art (any direct income from my art has been from grants, very little has been generated selling my work).
I have never fully supported myself with my art. An odd variety of jobs over the years include telephone operator, insurance claims adjustor, computer programmer, Montessori teacher, museum registrar, rural community development worker, grant-funded government research, corporate market research director, freelance marketing consultant [which I still do]. My BA and MA degrees are in a social science. Art was an undergraduate minor only, mainly because I found studio courses stifling. I therefore have not got the credentials to teach. Disclosure: I most likely would not have survived in the academic milieu anyway.
I worked my way through college doing jobs in student government and living communally. Afterwards I moved to New York in 1974, wrote art criticism for a living for a couple of years (imagine!), and then set type freelance (job now obsolete). Rent on my tiny place was super low, and I made video and films on the extra. Despite intermittent grants and shows, these projects never fully paid for themselves, much less paid me. I also distributed artists video (starting in 1986). For several years this was nearly, but not quite, a break even venture – with no salary for me, but pay for one worker, and a thin stream of bucks to the artists. Afterwards, for over a decade, it has been a dead loss and archival albatross.
If you are doing any sort of self expression solely to make money, I think you will be disappointed. Don’t get me wrong, I am not going to turn down money but that is not why I do what I do and I for one, do not want to have money be a factor in why or why not that I choose to do something. Yes I have been paid for music and art but it has never paid my bills.I have worked at the University Of Texas Libraries since 1978 and that’s my income.
I am a curator in a Chicago museum, but before that, I worked as an instructor for a few universities/art school. In my earlier capacity, I was always paid a barely living wage–enough to pay my basic bills, but not enough to save for retirement, catastrophic health events, etc. Sometimes I received health benefits of a very adequate type. After switching to museum work, I was paid even less, based upon the number of hours I was expected to work, but found ways to earn enough to expand my housing situation, save some money, and take a traveling vacation; I owe this to the perception that, as I grow older, I am more attractive as an invited lecturer/contributor to books
I work in an administrative position at a large Chicago museum where I am one of many who are overqualified and underpaid. Here are some of the ways that I make up for the pay that I should receive:
My mother has worked most of her life as a janitor. No matter how bad my job is I realize that I am privileged to be working in my chosen career. Through tuition remission I take a class every semester that keeps me intellectually engaged. My career status no longer determines my self-worth. Outside projects of my choosing keep me involved in the Chicago arts community and personally fulfilled; the work for these projects is often folded into my day job.
I am an interdisciplinary artist who makes sculpture, drawings, photographs, performances and installations. In the years 1989-1992 I made enough money off the sales of my work and grants to survive. Then my gallery stopped paying me regularly, (a very prominent NYC gallery), and then stopped paying me at all. I made a deal with them to trade the money owed me for art by a famous dead artist.