Artists helping artists is one of my favorite things in the whole world. By empowering each other we empower ourselves. This is a fantastic, growing list of resources for artists of all kinds who may be freelancers feeling the pinch during the pandemic.
The program design and the open call of New York City’s Public Artists in Residence (PAIR) demonstrate refreshingly pro-artist principles.
It all boils down to trust and transparency.
Artists are Leaders
Inspired by an artist-led initiative, PAIR supports artists to step outside of the cultural sector into municipal collaborations.
PAIR is based on the premise that artists are creative problem solvers. To that end, DCLA embeds socially engaged artists in New York City municipal agencies to utilize their creative, collaborative art practice to offer innovative solutions to pressing civic challenges. Launched in 2015, the PAIR program takes its name and inspiration from the pioneering work of artist Mierle Laderman Ukeles, the City’s first official artist in residence (1977), with the NYC Department of Sanitation.
This is a unique residency. What a wonderful legacy for Mierle Laderman Ukeles’ iconic work.
Let Artists Be Strategic
The open call describes necessary characteristics of successful applicants.
Artists who are able to be flexible, adaptable, and can maneuver through different situations and populations are encouraged to apply.
Many open calls are intentionally vague. They want to cast the widest net possible and let the jurors decide. Or, some open calls are transactional; the gallery wants to generate income via the entry fees, so they are disincentivized from stating their curatorial interests out right.
Applicants and jurors benefit when calls result in quality over quantity.
The call clearly states the budget.
PAIR funding per residency is $40,000: $20,000 for the Research Phase and $20,000 for the Implementation Phase. Funding is inclusive of related project expenses (e.g., printing, fabrication, equipment rental, wages for collaborators, video production, etc.). The selected artist(s) are responsible for managing the project budget and submitting invoices. No additional funding is provided….
Sometimes institutions like to be coy about the total budget available—it gives them more wiggle room to move funds around as needed. Or, they’ll say, “up to [X amount]” is available, and then artists have to justify what they ask for.
When everything is up for negotiation, artists—honored to receive an opportunity and unsure how much is available—can get the short end of the stick.
Trust Artists to Manage Budgets
They will just disburse the funds to the artist. Artists don’t have to explain or justify every expense.
All funds ($40,000 total) are paid directly to the artist, who manages all program costs.
This is, hands down, my favorite way to handle funds. Just give artists the money!
If a city agency can do it, then I have hope everyone else can find a way to do it too.
The alternatives—submitting reimbursement requests with receipts and line items—can add up to a lot of administrative labor and stress. (For example, one institution refused to reimburse me for expenses for which I submitted scans, rather than hard copies, of receipts.)
Since they advocate for artists to be paid fairly, they encourage solo artists rather than collaboratives.
DCLA advocates strongly for fair artist wages. Given that PAIR awards are fixed, we strongly encourage individual artists to apply for PAIR, rather than artist collectives that would have to share the award. Collectives are still welcome to apply, knowing the financial restrictions.
They’re acknowledging that $20,000 for a year-long project is not enough of an artist’s fee for multiple artists.
This call recommends that the artist’s fee be 50% of the total budget.
We encourage artists to take a $20,000 artist fee and use $20,000 for the project budget. However, it is up the to the artist’s discretion to use the fee as they see fit.
Stating the proportion, and making it a generous proportion, are radical. Many artists are unsure how much to pay themselves, because they are often expected to underpay themselves.
(When I was an undergrad, a teacher told our class that his grant application was unsuccessful because his artist’s fee was too much of the total budget. The message was: “Don’t pay yourself too much, or else you won’t get paid at all.” In fact, underpaying myself and using my own capital to subsidize ‘opportunities’ has been part of most—but not all—of my experiences.)
The message here is: “We value artist’s labor”—and not just in theory, but in practice.
This program was created by Tom Finkelpearl, former Commissioner of the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs.
There’s a lot that I don’t understand about politics. One thing I know: New York City is worse off having lost two top talents: Tom Finkelpearl and Andy Byford.
Utah-based artist Casey Jex Smith shared a life timeline showing his time to make art compared to career and family benchmarks, student loan debt, and gallery representation.
Timeline by artist Casey Jex Smith, courtesy of the artist
He contextualized it with:
Really satisfying to create. Just trying to communicate the trade offs in life when trying to be an artist. Artists need more data points to make their decisions —more transparency and honesty from institutions they trust.
I’m always for artists having more information, being more transparent, and self-aware of their conditions in a way that is informative. This is a great visualization and generous gesture of transparency.
What I noticed about Casey’s data visualization:
- The sharp drops in time available for art after each child was born, and the cumulative effects of reducing his time.
- Actually, I’m impressed he’s still able to find 10 hours per week for art.
- The staggering amount of student debt from the MFA from SFAI. How loan interest grew or stabilized the debt amount while teaching, and a reduction in the balance starts only after working at a tech company.
- Some friends are involved in organizing adjunct instructors for fair pay at art schools—this really puts teachers’ sacrifices in perspective.
- In the underwear-shaped part of the timeline (ha!), he had up to four galleries representing him. Each relationship lasted during a limited, post-grad-school period—the total interval almost equal to the time passed since then.
- When I went to grad school, there was a sense that having a gallery represent you was like being “saved”—you’d be set up, and your precariousness would become limited. But that seems like setting yourself up for disappointment. Some galleries close, some relationships don’t work out. Artists are responsible for sustaining our own lifelong practices.
This is a really interesting exercise, and I hope it inspires other artists to make their own visualizations. They could be following Casey’s example, or about other aspects of their life as an artist.
For more inspiration, see the zine I made in 2015 based on an Artist’s Personal Impacts Survey I conducted.
Learn more about Casey’s work at caseyjexsmith.com. Thanks, Casey, for sharing your timeline with me and other artists!
It’s not often that major media covers an artist-in-residence program, or the social impact of the resulting public artworks.
This is an interesting profile of a small community in Georgia, portraits of local residents by artist-in-residence Mary Beth Meehan, and the conversations about belonging and controversies around Islamophobia that they sparked.
Read “How 17 Outsize Portraits Rattled a Small Southern Town” by Audra D. S. Burch, NY Times, January 19, 2020.
If you’re interested, learn more about the Newnan residency program. Applications are accepted on a rolling basis.
A beautiful work of storytelling and advanced learnings about sharing art.
Edmund’s speech comes from her perspective as curator and artistic director, facilitating relationships between artists and institutions. She’s particularly pro-artist [which is something you might assume people working in the art world would be, but actually, some are anti-artist, H/T Shannon Stratton].
Edmund’s perspective was especially interesting to me as a social practitioner, in thinking about partnerships with organizations, institutions, and communities, and also as an artist who thinks about my work less in terms of objects to be owned, and more in terms of aesthetic experiences and engagements.
Below are a few highlights.
On partnerships between artists and institutions
The quality of invitations to artists and audiences matter.
Artists are not to be treated as vendors. A public is not to be treated as consumers. Do not transact poetics and people, ever.
She said that requiring measurable outcomes facilitates gatekeeping and hinders bridge-building.
On how art lives in the world
When introducing performances, Edmunds feels compelled to tell audiences:
We have a job together, which is to make a memory. We will be the living archive for this artist, in this moment, in this time. We going to become its permanent collection.
I love this idea. She explains:
Art belongs in the world. It is informed by the maker, its place, city, community, culture, conditions—everything through which it is made—but it isn’t owned by the organization that helped facilitate it. Nor, once it is given by the artist, is it exclusively owned by them. It become owned by a public, in the world, in a memory that we made…
Ownership as a fixed idea is transformed into something else. To me, that transformation is a participation in belonging to the work, to the experience of it, to the acknowledgment of its maker, to the cultural assets that stand with it, and also to us, fleeting or long.
…The future completes our work—how it sustains or endures. What is forged in our cultural memory connects us uniquely.
For me, when an artwork exists that way—as a shared memory or an experience ingrained in the body—that’s whats most exciting about working in the realm of aesthetic experiences. That’s why I keep going back to making projects with people, inviting participation, gathering stories, and sharing emotions and experiences.
She also shared this tidbit:
…Art needs to belong in the world because it is how we practice, in the words of Deborah Hay, “the deep ethics of optimism.”
Tangent: On “The deep ethics of optimism”
*Since I’m obsessed with optimism I wanted to learn more about what this phrase meant. I found an interview with choreographer Deborah Hay. She said, “A friend of mine who is a poet talks about ‘the deep ethics of optimism.'”
Then I found an interview with writer Zara Houshmand:
Issues of social justice matter to me very much but over time I’ve been more inclined to look inward at deeper sources of change—the mechanisms of empathy, breaking down prejudice, embracing the other, fixing oneself at the root in ways that create a more viable relationship with the rest of the world. In other words, doing the spiritual work to make yourself available for the work of social justice. It goes beyond finding a balance of contemplative and active life, or marshaling limited resources to prevent burn-out. Rather, it’s about what it means to commit to impossible tasks wholeheartedly, the deep ethics of optimism.
This relates to ideas that I keep coming back to, as well as new ideas I am currently discovering:
- What I’m trying to achieve in my art is space for connection, for people to be whole-hearted, vulnerable, and authentic. Through my work, I am trying to ask, “How do you keep your heart open?” I think this is connected to optimism and embracing the abundance of the world and human goodness, which informs your ethics and how you move through the world and relate to change.
- What is the relationship between social change and personal growth? This came up a lot in my recent Belonging Project at the Haas Institute for a Fair and Inclusive Society. I focused a lot about how belonging feels. Then we looked at how to relate this to how belonging (and othering) happens on institutional scales, on a societal level.
- I’ve also been thinking more about what it means when “the personal is political.” When are acts of self-care or self-actualization empowering and radical? When are they self-indulgent and afforded by privileged? For whom? In what conditions?
- Self-care can be radical for people subjected to systematic violence. I identify as a woman of color, and, I’m also East Asian, educated, with sources of income that allow me to pursue being an artist, cis, able-bodied, neurotypical, with birthright citizenship and fluent English.
- I am encountering my own ageism, ableism, and fat-shaming and the loss of privilege afforded youth, ability, and control over my body. I want to challenge these biases to work towards social change and inclusion, AND to accept myself for improved mental health. I recognize that this latter reason is completely self-interested; that this is how privilege works (I didn’t have to think about this before, I could be un-empathetic and uninformed about those affected); and this is how bias works (I couldn’t ‘see’ it until it affected me directly).
- I’m reading adrienne maree brown’s Emergent Strategy (AK Press [an anarchist worker-run coop🤘🏽], 2017) and “doing the spiritual work to make yourself available for the work of social justice” seems very related.
A double-whammy of expanding communities of artists.
Some of my best moments in life are when I’m surrounded by smart, generous, enthusiastic artists. I’m thankful that I was able to be in that situation twice in the past two days. I am grateful for everything that went into making those moments happen.
Yesterday, I attended the orientation for Lower Manhattan Cultural Council’s Process Space, a five-month studio residency on Governor’s Island. I was excited about the opportunity but also anxious about meeting 19 strangers! There’s a lot that could go wrong.*
But it went really well—everyone was friendly and excited as we took the ferry across the sunny NY Harbor. When we sat down to get to know each other, it became clear that the participants have an interesting range of advanced inquiries. I was glad to see other POCs and a majority of female participants.
And I was happy that following the official orientation, J organized a happy hour. How I appreciate these social spaces has matured over the years. It’s not only for fun, but to learn more about individuals’ opinions, pasts, and senses of humor; it deepens connection, trust, and empathy. The sooner these spaces happen within any kind of artists’ programs, the better. I’m really excited to continue getting to know my cohorts, working alongside them in Process Space, and building a community of likeminded artists.
Today, I met up with 16 artists from the Artists in the Marketplace program for our informal, for-us, by-us walk-through of the Bronx Calling exhibition at the Bronx Museum. I initiated it because there’s so many strong, smart, and mutually-invested artists in my 2014 cohort, I knew it would be worthwhile to meet members of this year’s group.
I love it when artists talk about their practices and interests in an intelligent, unpretentious, and honest way. It’s great to be able to take in their words and ask them questions in the same space as their original artwork. I’m thankful to the smart, diverse, articulate artists who shared their enthusiasm and attention today.
Making these spaces happen takes initiative, labor, and, risk—you can’t guarantee that people will attend or enjoy themselves. But I would encourage artists: Do it! Why miss an opportunity? Make time and space to have fruitful conversations with other artists about art! If you’re worried about the time commitment, remember that events pass—and so does the labor of organizing them.
The payoff is worth it. Though the happy hour and walk-through were initiated by individuals, they manifested like potlucks—everyone coming to the table with something, like good will, openness, and receptiveness.**
*Recommended satire about social anxiety, see: “Everything I Am Afraid Might Happen If I Ask New Acquaintances to Get Coffee” by Hallie Cantor.
**Of course, these spaces are the cherries on the cake that is the support of LMCC and the Bronx Museum, for whom I’m tremendously grateful.
Art labor and working conditions have been on my mind lately–perhaps it’s because I installed at the recent art fairs, where art handlers get access without influence.* For example, installers at Frieze receive exhibitors’ class “C” passes—which are good only for entry before or after public hours.
A recent op-ed on NYT (Tony Schwartz and Christine Porath, “Why You Hate Work”, May 30, 2014) states what many managers, HR people and executives seem impervious to (but anyone with a shitty job already knows):
Employees are vastly more satisfied and productive, it turns out, when four of their core needs are met: physical, through opportunities to regularly renew and recharge at work; emotional, by feeling valued and appreciated for their contributions; mental, when they have the opportunity to focus in an absorbed way on their most important tasks and define when and where they get their work done; and spiritual, by doing more of what they do best and enjoy most, and by feeling connected to a higher purpose at work.
…Put simply, the way people feel at work profoundly influences how they perform.
This seems so obvious to me, yet some excel in failing to consider that workers are people. (In a particularly dense example, I’ve had to explain why “feeling valued and appreciated for [one’s] contributions” means not treating workers as interchangeable and
replaceable by firing them willy-nilly.)
…Partly, the challenge for employers is trust. …many employers remain fearful that their employees won’t accomplish their work without constant oversight — a belief that ironically feeds the distrust of their employees, and diminishes their engagement.
The worst example of this is requiring some workers (but not white collar staff) to use a fingerprint scanning time clocks. (Workers were allowed to choose which finger to scan in with. Guess which one it was?)
Of course, many supervisors get it, and are generous and humane. Their employees are happier and more productive for it, and likely so are they.
* “[Preparator] work gives the perspective of an insider without the credibility of one,” Torreya Cummings, as quoted by moi in “Portrait of an Artist: Wily and Engaged,” Art Practical, May 4, 2011.