Being a professional artist (trying to make a living from your art), takes courage. Especially for people of color and those who do not have a social or financial safety net, art can be risky business. One challenge of trying to make a living as an artist is one simultaneously has to become an entrepreneur – and entrepreneurship is not easy. Artists may be creative and talented, but may not always have the business-savvy or technical skills necessary for entrepreneurs.
The need the artist fills is not as tangible as the need for food or healthcare and does not have the same systems of support or reimbursement. However, art is important for mental health, education, societal discourse, self-expression, culture, community building and in so many other ways. Art makes society better. Because of this, we need to support artists. When an artist is trying to make a living from their valuable contribution to society, they need tangible support to survive. Back in the day, famous artists would have benefactors, rich people would make sure they have everything they need financially in order to free them up to do their work. Now, we need to be the benefactors in our own communities.
From my observations as both a supporter and an artist I have come up with ways in which we can all contribute to being benefactors for artists in our communities. With this list of 10 “Do’s” and 2 “Don’ts” we can tangibly support artists and make a huge impact.
Things To Do
1. Put your money where your mouth is:
Buy their work, support their fundraisers, fund their patreon. Give $5, $10, $100, whatever you can afford, a little here and there goes a long way.
2. Create and connect them to opportunities:
Hire them when you’re throwing a shindig. Or if you know people throwing shindigs and need performers: people getting married, people organizing events, people who need new décor or fashion. Be that link that can lead to more opportunities for them.
3. Talk about them:
You have friends who like live music, invite them to a show. The artist is having a fundraiser, share their information. When someone compliments your earrings, tell them who made it and give their contact information. Introduce them to influential people you may know. Word of mouth is a great way to show support, even when you don’t have money yourself. Many opportunities come from second degree connections.
4. Support them on social media:
Like and share their websites and pages. Share their videos. They’re in the news? Share that article and let your whole network know how awesome they are! You get invited to an event that could use their touch – tell the organizer about them. Social media is a great way to help expose artists to a wider audience, and your network may bring them their next big opportunity, or at least their newest fan.
5. Show up:
If nothing else, show up for them whenever you can. Even if you can only afford the free events right now – go. It’s so important to artists to not perform to empty space or have an empty exhibition. You just being there helps boost them, and opportunities can come from others seeing the artist’s popularity.
6. Giving and receiving gifts:
When your friends and family have reasons to buy you gifts, create a wishlist of products from your favorite community artists. Whenever you have to think of gifts for others: see what unique gifts you can get for them from artists you know.
7. Connect them to information on grants, fellowships and residencies:
You may get wind of opportunities that can be game changers for artists. Don’t assume the artist knows everything that is out there. You can even help them apply if they cannot do it on their own and you are able.
8. Nominate and vote for them:
Accolades can be really helpful to artists as they open doors. As supporters be sure to think of them when you have the opportunity to nominate, or vote for them to be recognized for their hard work and talent.
9. Provide safe spaces:
Studio space, event space, workshop space, a space to escape to, a space to sleep. Artists need spaces, physical and figurative, to grow their art.
10. Be a resource:
You don’t have to be an artist to be a resource to artists. Provide information, education and be a resource to artists in anything that can be helpful – whatever your strength. Healthcare, financial literacy, marketing, publicity, food, childcare. Artists are people too, with regular people needs. If you can be a resource for them please don’t hesitate to do so.
Things Not To Do
1. Do not hold their art ransom:
Do not attach strings to your support. For example: don’t demand that a Black artist’s art has to fit into your perception of “Black Art” in order support it. The point is to help talented artists become their best selves, not what you want them to be. Appreciate their art for what it is, no strings attached.
2. Do not take advantage of artists in the name of “exposure”:
Do not expect a professional artist who you know is trying to make a living from their art to perform or provide their work for free. They are providing a service that has taken great investment on their part. Exposure does not put food on the table, shelter over their heads or help them continue to invest in their talent. I suggest bartering may be a better way to approach artists if you do not have financial resources available but would like their service. Whether it’s an accounting practice, a massage certification or a vegetable garden, there is something you have that can be helpful to that artist which you can barter for their work.
If you are unsure what type of support the artists need most, please feel free to ask them. This list can also be a checklist for artists to let their supporters know what they need and by no means is it exhaustive. Let’s work together to sustain our artists so they can continue to enrich our lives.
© 2015 Kelene Blake, All Rights Reserved