Songs for the Struggling Artist

How to Make Money as an Artist

The answer to how to make money from your art reminds me of a joke Steve Martin used to do. The bit goes, “You can be a millionaire and never pay taxes. You can have one million dollars and never pay taxes. You say, Steve – how can I be a millionaire and never pay taxes? First, get a million dollars. Now….”

Except with art – it’s a long list of things like: First, become really popular or First, make commercially profitable work or First, be incredibly well connected socially. Or really, just the same: First, get a million dollars.

If you’re wondering how to make money from your art, chances are you don’t have any of those things yet because if you did, you would probably already be making money from your art and thus we have the art making paradox.

I have read endless articles and books on this topic and they all offer more or else the same thing in more or less optimistic language, depending on the publication. They all know that this is what everyone wants to know, so this is what they tell you, even though no one has the secret. I’m not going to lie to you – the reason why there are so many articles about how to make money from your art is because everyone wants the answer and no one knows how to do it, aside from the Steve Martin, “First, get a million dollars” way. There are some things to try, for sure. There are possibilities and methods. Maybe one will work for you but there are no guarantees.

However – I don’t want to deny what you came here for – so at the risk of repeating what every other article about this says – I will, in fact, offer you some strategies for making money on your art work. I will be unable to avoid drawing on my experience and of other artists I’ve known, though, so you can expect, perhaps, an uncomfortable amount of realism included.

Okay. First:
Get a million dollars.
Kidding. Sorry. Couldn’t resist.

First: Make art. If your art requires an upfront investment and you can make it, do it. If you can’t, find ways to adapt. Like, if you’re a painter and you can’t afford a canvas, sketch and draw for a while until you can get the canvas. Make drawings and sketches and paintings. Write novels and plays and blogs and screenplays, etc, etc. Don’t think about selling any of it at first. You just have to do it enough that it becomes part of your life.

If you’re a performing artist, you’re going to have difficulties of a different sort. You’re going to need space (try a park? A basement? Your living room?) and you’re going to (most likely) need other people. Finding other people who will contribute to your art without compensation is probably harder than actually making your piece. All I can advise here is kindness, transparency and gratitude. That is, if you don’t have any money to pay your artists – say, “I don’t have any money to pay you.”

There are those who will pretend they have money to pay artists and then do not have money to pay artists and so do not pay their artists after telling their artists they would be paid. Those folks will get an unsavory reputation very quickly.

Whatever your initial projects are, do not expect to make money on them. The odds are that you will not.

The odds are probably such that your second and third ventures will also not make you money. But you stand a better chance the more work you make – and if you’re lucky you will cease to care quite as much about that.

So – that’s step one. Make your work. And I just want to pause to acknowledge that this is not easy. Making art without money is very very difficult. I have surely talked about this in many blogs before so I won’t go into the unpredictable ways that money makes a difference but just now I suggest that you acknowledge that you’re up against the wall and give yourself hugs.

Step 2: Let’s say you now have a body of work. Make sure you document it because whatever path you take with it, you’re going to need the receipts on your artwork.

Now you can start to think through whether you want to approach making art as a business or as a service. You can try to do both but you’ll likely end up split in half, as any servant of two masters does.

If you pursue the business track, I’d recommend thinking through your boundaries and about what counts as art for you. If you’re happy to be creative on assignment, you will likely be able to make a living. You can get a job in advertising. You can paint for an interior designer. You can write for soap operas. Being creative for a living is entirely possible but be forewarned that this is being “a creative” not being an artist. It’s being artistic for money. It’s not making art. And for a lot of people, this is enough. For some people, they find the balance is to be artistic for work and an artist at home.

If you’re interested in business, you can try selling your art – though I don’t know many who find a way to make this work. Those that do tend to develop a business – they’ll do design to sell their images on t-shirts for example – but given how unwilling most people are to pay for art these days (and for art also read music, theatre, film, dance, writing, etc.,) I don’t know if you can really bank on selling.

I’m not saying you can’t do it. I’m just saying that it is a rare artist who can. If you’re Damien Hirst you can sell a pile of lint but if you’re not already Damien Hirst, it’s not likely you can become him. I think partly that’s because those heady days of buying and selling art are kind of over and partly because the obstacles in the way of becoming the kind of artist who sells his work are more extreme.

Let’s look at music, for example, (and just project out for the other arts) in the pre-internet days, we sort of had a pocket of middle class musicians. An indie band could tour and sell their records and maybe they wouldn’t be able to buy a house but they could keep the band alive. Now, the musician middle class has virtually disappeared. There’s a lot of money at the top and nothing the rest of the way down. What I mean is, you’re either getting 14 million plays on Spotify and doing pretty darn well or you’re getting a thousand and making chump change. You’re either Taylor Swift or you’re struggling. Selling records doesn’t do it any more. Selling paintings doesn’t do it. Selling your writing is a similar problem.
You can try it, of course and you very well may be the one in a million who cracks the code. But the odds are worse than they’ve ever been.

Taking the service route may seem like the easier path. You could start a non-profit organization, go sing your tunes for incarcerated grandmothers or paint puppies in peril.
Probably someone has already suggested you “just get a grant” for something you do. If I had a grant for every time someone suggested I get grant, I’d have a fully funded non-profit. Somehow the world thinks it is super easy to just get a grant – I think they think there are pots of free money just sitting around and all an artist needs to do is to go ask for it. If only.

Listen. Grants are great. I started a non-profit theatre company and I am grateful for every grant check I have ever received. But there are hardly pots of money lying around waiting to be distributed. Grantmakers are rare rare birds and finding one that happens to want to fund exactly the sort of thing you want to make is like going searching for a Rose-Throated Becard (that’s a rare bird from Arizona.) And if you do spot one of those Rose-Throated Grants – well, the odds of it providing you more than a tiny token portion of what you need are VERY slim. Can you find a grant? Sure you can. But you might spend 7 times as long searching for and applying for that funding as you do making your art.

I promise you I’m not trying to be discouraging. I just want you to know what you’re up against.

Are there people who make this model work? Absolutely. They are pros at soliciting donations and establishing artistic organizations and the better you get at it, the bigger the grants are that you become eligible for. So if it appeals to you – give it a shot. I just want you to know that it is not as simple as getting a grant. The first grant we ever received as a non-profit theatre company was for $500. We worked on that application for weeks. The labor, if we’d charged for it, would have been three times the amount of the grant. And $500 was only a drop in the bucket of what we needed.

Grants aren’t magic. That’s all I’m saying. Can you probably pick up a grand somewhere? Probably. But I’m going to guess that you’re going to need more than that to do whatever it is that you want to do. And every penny of it will probably have to go back into the project. So – are you making money with your art? Probably not in this context.

Is it hopeless to imagine you could make a living as an artist? No. It is possible. It’s a little bit like – some basketball players get to play in the NBA and most do not. And more and more – it is only the NBA players who are making any money. Metaphorically speaking.
But again – I’m not telling you this to discourage you. Though, I will say, if you’re discouragable by me, just some struggling artist lady with a blog, I think probably a little discouragement is a good idea. The only way you’re going to survive the indignities of making art in America is if you’re undiscourageable.

Like – if I can, with my little truth telling machine, prevent you from going into whatever art you’re considering, it’s actually a service to you. You might just decide to go to law school instead and then, later, once you have a house and car and your kids have gone to college, you might just come on back to your art and I will tell you that you will likely be in a much better position than those of us who have kept at it, without pause, from our youth.

Do I wish I had done it that way? Nope. No one could have convinced me to take a minute away from my art and if you’re like me – I’m sorry. It is easier the other way. I am envious of those who made other choices and have things like…furniture – but I wouldn’t have, couldn’t have, done it their way.

But let’s say you are like me and no one could convince you to abandon your craft.
Here are some ways you can make it work.
1) Get a full time job. Do your art at night. (Or whatever arrangement of the day you find.) Some of the happiest artists I know have full time office jobs. Others have full time teaching positions.
2) It’s the Gig Economy! Gig it up! Have 6 jobs! I’ve done it. It’s crazy but if you’re trying to prioritize your art, sometimes it’s good to more or less make your own schedule so you can build in a rehearsal day or whatever. I know a Broadway actor who became a handy-man so he could grab a gig when he had the time. When thinking about Day Jobs, I recommend Carol Lloyd’s book, Creating a Life Worth Living – and consider whether or not it will be beneficial for you to do your day job in the big tent of your art or to do something entirely separate. Like, if you want to be a circus performer, would you be happy with a gig as a ticket seller at the circus or will it hurt your heart to be around the thing you love and not IN it? Anyway – jobs, gigs, support careers – they’re a reality for most of us.
3) Other avenues to consider are things like crowdfunding. Crowdfunding, when it first came up in its digital form, was thought to be the future of the arts. It has not turned out to be the panacea it was hoped it would be. But there are ways to crowdfund your work. See also Amanda Palmer’s astonishing Kickstarter album – followed by her great success on Patreon. But – in order for Crowdfunding to work in those magical ways – you have to have a crowd that is already in your corner. If you’re not already popular, crowdfunding is a lot trickier. Amanda Palmer killed it on those platforms because she already had a giant committed fan base when she joined. Personally, I get the bulk of any support on Patreon. I don’t have a CROWD, per se. But I do have some really dedicated supporters – and if you can find even just a few of those, they can make a tremendous amount of difference. If you have people in your life who are willing to help you out, I highly recommend letting them. I’ve known a lot of artists who felt like they couldn’t accept offers of support or patronage and without that avenue, your options for funding your work are really few. I wish it were not so but it is. Art is important. If you have to make it, you will find a way. If you let people help you make it, it will be a lot easier.

Now – a lot of arts support organizations will likely not enjoy this post. They will strenuously argue for their efficacy at giving artists the skills they need to make money. These organizations are some of the top creators of the How to Make Money posts and books and podcasts, etc. It’s how they justify paying all that rent or those salaries for those organizations. Many of these art-support places are very invested in the possibility of magical money that will come to the artists that work hard at the skills they have to offer. I would love it if this were so. I have taken nearly every workshop these sorts of organizations have to offer. Marketing for artists! Grantwriting for artists! Touring! Social Media for artists! Budgeting for artists! PR for artists! Databases for artists!

You can know how to do all those things and still never see a sustainable dime. You can make good work, do bang up support for it and still never find sustainability or even a break. It doesn’t reflect on your quality. It is really and truly the luck of the draw. Not all art is marketable. Not all art makes money.

You should play the game if you want and have to but if it doesn’t fly – it’s probably not you. It’s just that very few things fly.

Even a million dollars isn’t a guarantee. However – it does up your odds significantly. So – to really improve your chances of making money from your arts:

First – get a million dollars.

This post was brought to you by my generous patrons on Patreon.

They also bring you the podcast version of the blog.

You can find the podcast on iTunes, Stitcher, Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts.


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The Velvet Rope

After the show, we went to the lobby to wait for the actor to emerge after her performance. The lobby was pretty busy. There seemed to be a little reception in progress, featuring sparkling wine and chocolate.

The party was cordoned off with a velvet rope.

We were on the other side of the velvet rope.

The party, we guessed and later had confirmed, was for donors to the theatre. We had been given to understand that the actor would be appearing here eventually. We had been told to look for her here. On our side of the rope.

As the theatre emptied out, only a handful of us stood on the peasant side of the velvet rope. Among us were the actor’s family and her friends.

You might wonder why we didn’t simply unhook the rope from the stanchion and go in. Well – this theatre had thought of this, too. It was so important to them to maintain this separation between the donor class and us plebeians that they had an intern on duty to police it. He dutifully unhooked the rope to allow donors out and did his best to look forbidding to those of us on the outside. He made it clear that this party wasn’t for us and we were not to be included.

For a good long while, this theatre’s lobby featured a small party of about 24 people drinking prosecco inside a velvet rope and seven people standing around outside it, policed by an intern and his boss.

The “party” proceeded like this for some time – that is, until I spotted and made complicitous eye contact with the actor – who, after all was the woman of the hour and finally I just unhooked the velvet rope and ran in, to give her a hug.

Seeing the actor showing me such warmth, the woman in charge of this party, who had clearly found our presence distasteful before, now invited us to eat and drink. We had all been brought inside the rope. There was no one left outside it.

I don’t know what happened to the actual velvet rope after that. It had been designed to keep the riff raff out and once the riff raff was inside, there was no purpose for it anymore. As someone now on the inside, the rope was no longer of any concern to me. I expect that to those who had been inside all along, the velvet rope barely registered their attention. Did they know it was there? Once I was inside it, it ceased to be important to me – but before I got inside, that velvet rope and the people policing it were my primary focus.

This exercise in absurdity seems to me to be the perfect allegory for the American Theatre and maybe for American Art in general.

The theatre where this happened states, in their mission statement, that they “seek to create broad public access and to bond the diverse New York community” and yet, with a simple velvet rope and a zealous gatekeeper, they created division and diminished access – right there in their very own lobby.

It’s not just them. This absurdity plays itself out through almost every arts organization in America. A few years before, just down the street from this theatre, at another arts organization I used to work for, a crowd of artists sat in the lobby while the party for us went on upstairs because the gatekeeper would not let us up. And that’s just a literal example.

The whole field seems to be arbitrarily divided up by absurd velvet ropes. Once you have been invited inside, you can enjoy the prosecco and chocolate and opportunities but when you’re outside, you just sort of stand there awkwardly trying to make eye contact with any friends you have inside. And woe to the person trying to get in to the party without any friends inside.

Trying to make art in this country is like trying to get inside the velvet ropes without any friends inside. There are multiple forces at work that are actively trying to keep you out. There are things like submission fees, onerous grant application processes and requirements for references from well-known persons (this is a way to prove you have a contact inside the party.)

There are ways to increase your chances of getting past the ropes – depending on your field. Getting an MFA might introduce you to an insider (that’s indirectly how I met my insider at this donor theatre party) or interning at the right spot might help you rise up the ranks but your best shot is being born into a social circle or with access to someone who knows someone.

And of course, just making it inside the ropes for one day, for one party won’t really help you in the long run. You need to be a regular insider, to become so used to the prosecco and the chocolate that you don’t even notice them at the party. In order to stand a chance of having your art produced, you need to be so far behind the barriers that you forget the velvet ropes entirely.

The difference between a struggling artist and one who has made it lives in those velvet ropes. The struggling artist is acutely aware of where the ropes are and who is guarding them. They are, after all, designed to keep us out. In a country that prides itself on its egalitarian values, this exclusion is particularly galling. That is made worse by how easily and quickly the barrier is lifted and also how entirely unnecessary the barrier is to begin with.

There was so much prosecco and so much food at this donor party that the staff had to take boxes of it home to prevent it being thrown away. That velvet rope made me feel that that this theatre would rather throw their chocolate away than let me have it. Then I got a nod of approval from an insider and suddenly I could have all the chocolate I could have wanted.

There was no difference in my quality on one side or the other of that rope. I was the same person on both sides of the barrier. Inside, I had approval. Outside, I was a nuisance. It is not nice to feel like a nuisance and yet, because I am outside the rope most of the time, I do feel it a LOT. I made myself go talk to a famous actor recently. While I was telling her how much I admired her work in the show she’d just done, I felt fine – like the metaphorical velvet rope between us didn’t matter at all. But as soon as I tried to hand her the play she’d inspired me to improve and keep going on, I felt the velvet rope pop up – whether on my side or on hers, it doesn’t really matter – the point is, it showed up. I felt like a nuisance and an idiot. The sense of humiliation was profound – even though there was no actual rope.

Part of what is so difficult about being a perpetual struggling artist is constantly bumping up against that rope. If you have a well-connected friend or two, you may on occasion find yourself on the other side for a moment but a well-connected friend will not protect you from all the other velvet ropes that arts organizations put up to keep out the riff raff.

At the heart of the velvet rope distinction it feels like those who are on the inside are just better people. If you’re a writer with an agent, then you must be a better writer than one without. If you know a famous person, you must be cooler than your average person. It is not so far from the American sense that money makes you better – that the rich are rich because they worked hard and deserve it. They’re just naturally inside.

What’s ironic is, I would wager you a bottle of prosecco that the donors inside the rope don’t care a bit about keeping out the riff raff. It is the gatekeepers that are concerned about it. And very concerned they are indeed. Also, ironically, riff raff-wise, everyone in that lobby with me had a degree of privilege already. The tickets at that theatre are quite expensive – so the separation is not between top-hatted monocled millionaires and fingerless gloved ragamuffins – it’s the difference between someone who can afford to donate a building and someone who can afford to enter it. The riff raff are people who can pay to see esoteric theatre for an average price of $75 a ticket.

In the case of this theatre, with its mission to bring people together, it was a literal velvet rope – but arts organizations put up metaphorical velvet ropes every day. If you run one, look at how and where you put up barriers to access. Anything you put in place to reduce your submissions, for example: that’s a velvet rope. Obviously, you can keep it there if you want to – but if you’re only including the agented, the recommended, the degreed or the submission fee’d, you’re sending a message that you are only interested in privileged artists, that you prefer your donors to your audience, that you only want insiders. Your velvet ropes say that you only want to give that prosecco to the people who have a case of prosecco at home. If, like this theatre, you aspire to create broad public access and to bond your community, you have to let your velvet ropes go.

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This Is My Motherf—ing Brand

(If the title hasn’t already tipped you off, there will be a great many f-bombs in this post.)

I went to a conference for “creators” and of course there was a session on branding because that’s the world we live in now. I did not attend because that is my motherfucking brand. My brand is that I don’t fucking believe in branding.

You know where we get the idea of branding? From actual white hot branding. Can’t tell the cows apart? Put a brand on their rumps. Whose cow is this? Check the logo burned into its rear. You know WHY branding became a part of advertising? It’s a way to distinguish identical things. Can’t tell the difference between the cans of cola? Put different logos on them. My motherfucking brand is no brand. If you can’t tell who I am without a branding, I can’t help you.

We live in a world of branding now – we talk about things being “on brand” in just regular conversation. Personal Branding is a thing. If you make things or work in any creative capacity, you have probably been encouraged to work on your brand. I know I have.

I understand that it makes sense to create a narrative and/or identity around what you do. I have a mission statement for my theatre company. I suppose you could frame that as a brand (OMG, please don’t) but a mission feels very different to me. As an individual artist, writer, etc – I also operate on a mission basis and not on brand.

I’m pretty sure that the people who support me know that. I’d bet the vast majority of my patrons on Patreon see their support of me as service, as contributions to the greater good – even though, as an individual, I am not tax deductible. (My theatre company is a 501c3, though.)

Since I went to Patreon’s conference a few months ago (the aforementioned conference for creators,) I have been wrestling with the discomfort I feel around the whole enterprise. On one hand, I am awash in gratitude for the structure Patreon provides. By making trusted space for people to support me, it has allowed me to begin to make a living doing what I do. It allows me to be of service to my whole community. That is a thing of beauty. On the other hand, Patreon is kind of Brand Central Station. It is a business that makes its money on the support of people supporting creators/makers/artists. They have been hugely profitable by taking a cut of patron’s generosity.

But everyone does that. Kickstarter. Indiegogo. Crowdrise. Go Fund Me. All of those platforms do the very same. I just raised $2550 on Indiegogo for a project and they took $208.50. Crowdfunding is a big money maker for the owners of those platforms (less so for the people on them.)

When it first started, Patreon pitched itself as a way to support artists – that is, as a kind of service. Now it explains what it does as powering “membership businesses for creators.” I’ve seen this transition in progress – and find myself questioning what it means (because that is my motherfucking brand.) While I am on board for the ongoing support, I do not see myself as a business (or a brand!) I have missions. I have purpose. I’m trying to make art. Not everyone there is.

Patreon is for “creators.” The actual artists I met at PatreCon could be counted on one hand. And I wouldn’t even need all my fingers for the counting.

I did, though, meet a guy who puts casts on people. Not like sculptural casting. No. Casts – like for broken arms or legs but without injury. I mean. No disrespect to Kevin. He was a very nice guy. But he’s not making art.

He is making money, though. Unlike me. Kevin makes money. I make art. I guess that’s my motherfucking brand.

People aren’t giving Kevin their money out of desire to be of service. They give him money so that he’ll put a cast on them or so they can watch a video of him putting a cast on an attractive young woman. There are more Kevins than there are of me. And Patreon makes its money on the Kevins. It also makes its money on the “content creators” like the guy who spearheaded the Gamergate campaign and makes misogynistic harassment videos directed at Anita Sarkeesian.

It doesn’t make much money on art. Art isn’t profitable, folks.

There are exceptions, of course. But in the old days, arts’ unprofitability was why it was something rich folks supported for the public good. Our new ruling class rulers – i.e. the dudes at the head of Silicon Valley companies – don’t support the arts the way the ruling class of old did. Zuckerberg probably doesn’t sit on the board of a ballet company and Tom of Twitter probably isn’t supporting the opera. The head of Patreon probably doesn’t either – despite all the talk of supporting creators. What gets done for the public good anymore?

Do we have to search for our public good in hidden pockets of digital platforms? What are we going to do when there’s no more art – only brands? No more artists, just content creators? No more art scenes, just income generation?

And as lovely as the good people who work at Patreon are (and they are very lovely) their salaries are paid by a cut of all of the patron’s money once a month. It’s more like a bank than a mecca of creativity. I adored every employee I met while at PatreCon AND I have a lot of questions about what all this is for. But then – that IS my motherfucking brand.

For example, at the final talk of conference, the CEO asked for the creators to ask hard questions. The first question was what the company was doing about the Hate still on the platform. (Last I checked the guy who made misogynist harassment videos was making $8k a month on the platform.) The CEO hedged and said they were doing their best but it’s hard, you know, because it’s somebody’s living. The next question was what he planned to do with the money once the shareholders had been repaid. And he said “This is what keeps me up at night.”

And there it is. It’s the profitability concern that keeps him up at night. Not the misogynist hater making his living destroying the livelihoods of women. But about how to raise profits for shareholders. The Second question was the actual answer for the first.
All of that gives me the creeps.
But it is coupled with a charmingly candid conference closing speech and a CEO who makes things and seems to have his heart in the right place even if it fails to deal effectively with misogyny. The creeps are counter balanced by a staff of many bad ass women and everyone just trying to do their best.

I see all that and I really appreciate it but I am twisted up by the questions. Which is, of course, my motherfucking brand.

Digital platforms aren’t neutral. They are businesses. Hopefully we all know that now, after the revelations about Facebook. None of them are perfect. Not even the ones that provide structures for us to survive.

We are all striking a kind of devil’s bargain to continue our lives on line – and possibly off, as well. We know Facebook and Twitter have some major problems but for those of us who still use them, the good outweighs the bad. I’d like for Patreon to be exceptional – to be of real service to artist, to be the true new patronage but I know it’s ultimately most accountable to its share holders.

I know this seems ungrateful – but biting the hand that feeds me is very on brand for me, wouldn’t you say? The thing is, Patreon doesn’t actually do much for me besides process credit cards. They provide the structure that allows people to feel comfortable giving people like me money on a regular basis – which is not nothing. Giving people a way to support me is huge. No one was giving me money once a month before Patreon came in to my life, believe me. And having a platform people trust helps facilitate that. I’m clear that there isn’t any other structure in place that has people’s trust enough to fund me through it.

This whole rant here might lead you to think I’m mad at Patreon but I’m really not. I’m super grateful (in a questioning way.) What I’m mad at is the sidelining of art, the blending of art into commerce, the branding of art and the branding of humans. I’m mad that when future generations look back at art movements of our time, they’re more likely to look at brand evolutions than art revolutions. I’m mad about the branding of culture and the dissolution of art for art’s sake. I’m mad that almost every artist I know feels inadequate about how impossible it is to make a living as an artist. And sure, I’m mad that Patreon, that I thought was an artist driven structure is just a money making content container – made for the management of porn, hate and commerce, like everywhere else on the internet. But I’m not mad at Patreon. It’s just doing like everyone else does.

Patreon is not a non-profit. It’s a business. Currently, it’s a business that provides a structure that allows people to support me, hallelujah. But businesses are not neutral. They exist to make money. Art does not make money. “Content” does. “Content” needs branding. How am I to know which content fits my personal brand if the content doesn’t have on-brand packaging?

And still, I know enough about branding, from just living in these times, breathing this capitalist air, to recognize when I’m falling into branding tropes. I can’t help feeling like not having a fucking brand is just another way to have a brand these days. Like one of those ironic ad campaigns. And what the hell am I selling?

My Patreon page? My second Patreon page that I just launched? I don’t actually think I’m doing a great job at that if that’s it. Though it is sort of on-brand for my Gen X anti-selling selling. Ack! Is there nothing unbranded anymore? Can we not live without labels and brands and logs and such? Is my motherfucking brand really not having a motherfucking brand? How do we shake free of this branded world?


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“He just came with the building”

An artist has died. He got cancer and some other things and he died in the prime of his artistic life. I did not know him well but I knew of some of his struggle and I knew his artistic skill and promise. He was a composer (an art which is incredibly demanding and does not pay well – except for a very privileged few) and worked as a pianist for many years at a well-known arts institution.

After the artist had worked there for some time, that arts institution finally managed to provide some of its long-term artistic staff some health insurance. This was an important gesture and I can attest to the fact that it doesn’t happen everywhere. I think I know around about when this gesture happened. I was still working as a Teaching Artist when arts organizations all over the city suddenly started making its long term artistic staff actual employees. Apparently, they’d come under some scrutiny for getting away with paying all of us as freelancers for so many years. But even in that flush of sudden employment and a sheaf of W-2s where I once had 1099s, no one ever offered me health insurance I could afford. So this arts institution, where the artist worked, did something really good. And for a brief while, the artist experienced some actual security. He had health insurance and a bit of regular work.

Then, after they’d gotten used to it, the arts institution decided to withdraw the health insurance from those they’d previously provided it for. They didn’t fire those folks. They just took away their health insurance in order to save a little money. It was probably just a line item on a budget to them. The arts institution took away the artist’s health insurance and very soon thereafter, the artist got sick. He’d had health insurance and then it was gone and then he got ill. His friends set up a Go Fund Me – but healthcare is expensive and they did not reach the goal.

Maybe even if the artist’s Go Fund Me campaign had been fully funded or he’d still had health insurance, he would have died anyway. But also maybe not. I can’t help feeling like the arts institution has his blood on their hands. I feel like they killed him.

A few months later, the arts institution provided a free space for the artist’s memorial performance. The titular head of the arts institution took to the stage to welcome everyone to his building. He made a speech about the dearly departed artist and said he didn’t know dates or anything but he’d known the artist for ages. He said “He just came with the building. He’d just always been there.”

And I’d already been wishing I had a pile of rotten tomatoes to throw at this guy who was getting all kinds of praise for “generously donating the space” when his organization so egregiously contributed to his healthcare situation. But when he said this thing about the artist just coming with the building, I wanted a whole truck of rotten fruits and vegetable to throw at him. An arts institution decides to take away an artist’s health insurance, as a result he dies and then the arts institution gets to look like a hero for giving up their space for a day? And THEN “he just came with the building”?!?!?!? I mean. You couldn’t ask one of your assistants to tell you how long he’d worked there?

And of course you took his health insurance away. He’s just part of the building. Building fixtures don’t need health insurance.

Of course he’s just part of the building. That explains why, despite many years of knowing him, you never once listened to one of his compositions. Parts of buildings don’t have their own artistic work, they are just part of the landscape. And this is how artists are often regarded – not as human beings making art that have needs just like any other human being – but as part of the atmosphere. We’re like the furniture. You use it for a while and then when you get a new interior designer, you throw it out for the next set.

This Arts Institution Head managed to express, in one dumb joke that was clearly meant to be charming, the way so many artists are viewed in institutions. Not as the very reason for the institution. Not as vibrant participants in the artistic life of the place. Not as contributors. Not even as artists. Just – part of the building.

The building just comes with artists – whose lives are as inconsequential as the dust that gets swept up on Sunday nights.

And so the artist’s work will likely be lost to the ages. And the building will stand. And another artist will come to be seen as part of the building eventually.


This blog is also a podcast. You can find it on iTunes.

If you’d like to listen to me read a previous blog on Anchor, click here.


Every podcast features a song at the end. Some of those songs are now an album of Resistance Songs, an album of Love Songs and More. You can find them on Spotify, my websiteReverbNation, Deezer and iTunes


You can help be more than part of a building

by becoming my patron on Patreon.

Click HERE to Check out my Patreon Page


Writing on the internet is a little bit like busking on the street. This is the part where I pass the hat. If you liked the blog (but aren’t into the commitment of Patreon) and would like to give a dollar (or more!) put it in the PayPal digital hat.


Everything Interesting Happens at the Edges

I remember reading about this concept in a book or a magazine or publication of some kind. I wish I could remember what the book or magazine was or who wrote it – but the memory is just at the edge of my consciousness, the way the beach is at the edge of the sea, the way the spaces between us are the places that intrigue, the way disparate parts meet each other somewhere, the way the edge of a bubble is what is vulnerable to popping. The margins, the edges, the fringes are where we are drawn again and again. That is where the action is.

I was thinking about this idea again while watching the first stages of the inspiring, intrepid Monica Byrne calling out large institutions of American Theatre. I could not help but imagine how the insiders of the American Theatre Bubble would react and respond to her criticism. I thought – “They’ll label her an outsider. They’ll question her credentials. They’ll dismiss her as someone outside the bubble, throwing stones. They’ll say she’s only criticizing because the big institutions haven’t produced her work.” I have no idea if anyone actually said that or thought or whispered it in their boardrooms – but I have seen it happen before in theatre and in many other arts and arenas. And it is why and how I am usually dismissed myself – so I’m pretty familiar with the pattern.

Seeing it outside of my own experience, though, I started to understand that criticism usually HAS to come from the edges, from the margins. Those of us at the edges have much less to lose by telling truths. (And to be clear, I think Monica is as much a theatre artist as any of the major theatres that she has tweeted to, if not more so – but there is a very narrow band of insiders that I mean to point to, the ones with deep pockets and endowments.)

Before I quit being a teaching artist, I had a lot to say about the field and what I saw happening in arts organizations but I did not feel free to share any of those things until I was prepared to give them up. My sense of freedom to say what I felt needed to be said was in direct proportion to how much I wanted and/or needed to keep my jobs. That is, while I was an insider, it was not in my interest to directly confront or address any inequities, injustices or problems in the field. Inside, I was relatively powerless to point out things that needed change.

It is not an accident that I started this blog around about the time that I realized I was not going to be enfolded into the arms of my theatre establishment. I am able to say what I say because I am in the margins.

I can almost guarantee that should, by some crazy miracle, one of my shows be suddenly snapped up by a major regional theatre or a Broadway producer and whisked into rehearsal, that you’d be hearing from me on this medium a whole lot less.

This would not be because I’d suddenly lose my brain, or my interest in changing the system. It would be because a) I’d be busy in rehearsal and b) it would not be in my best interest to compromise the one place in theatre it might be possible to make a real living. (Though you might hear a lot from me once it was all over!)

This is why you I’m blogging now. I’m in the theatre bubble enough to be able to see it but not enough to be risking my livelihood or relationships in talking about it. I’m not a complete outsider. I am a part of theatre community but I’m on the periphery and it is almost always the periphery that can point to real change or possibilities.

If you’re an institution, if you’re on the inside, and you don’t know what to do to fix the status quo, look to the fringe. Look for who is missing, bring them in and ask for their perspective. I’ve seen institutions try and make change from the inside. They ask employees to fill out surveys or do exit interviews. But those folks can never be fully honest. This is not because they lack honesty or awareness. This is because even if they’re done working with a theatre this time, they’re thinking about next time, or the way this gig might lead to the next. I have been honest at such things because I was asked to be and realized too late that honesty was not the savvy move.

A while back, I wrote a post called The Woman in the Room and it was about what it takes to stay on the inside, to tenaciously hold on to the little patch of ground one might have gained. It was for all my friends who were berating themselves for their complacency in the face of sexism in American Theatre. I said then and I will say again, that if you are a woman on the inside of the establishment (and/or anyone whose representation is negligible in the theatre,) you have to do what you have to do to stay there. We need an inside (wo)man. We need you in there. Fight when you can while you’re on the inside. Maybe gain some more ground to bring more women (and people of color, disabled people, transgender people and non-binary people) inside the establishment doors. Support those on the outside who are more able to fight for you and bring them inside when you can. And hang out at the edges. They are the most interesting places after all. They are where change is happening. Where change is possible.


This blog is also a Podcast. You can find it on iTunes. If you’d like to listen to me read a previous blog on Anchor, click here.


Every podcast features a song at the end. Some of those songs are now an album of Resistance Songs, an album of Love Songs and more. You can find them on Spotify, my websiteReverbNation, Deezer and iTunes


You can help me keep challenging the status quo

by becoming my patron on Patreon.

Click HERE to Check out my Patreon Page


Writing on the internet is a little bit like busking on the street. This is the part where I pass the hat. If you liked the blog (but aren’t into the commitment of Patreon) and would like to give a dollar (or more!) put it in the PayPal digital hat.


Please Stop Asking for Recommendations

Dear Residencies, Grantmakers, Award Givers and Artist Opportunity Makers,

Please stop asking for recommendations. Do you ever make your decisions based on them? I suspect not. I understand that you’re probably trying to weed out jerks – but almost anyone can find two people to say nice things about them. Heck, a really cagey jerk could just write them himself from a couple of extra email addresses and phone numbers.

It’s not that I can’t get my colleagues, friends, and fans to write recommendations for me, I can. It’s just that I apply for a LOT of things and I fear that your demands (for things that I am skeptical about you even READING) may be burning out my support team.

A life in the arts is not like college. I understand you need recs for college. But college happens once – maybe twice if there’s a Masters in the works – while an artistic life is ALL the time.

In continually asking for recommendations, you wear out, not just the applicants but also their networks. I try to spread out my asking – but…I know it is a burden on those I ask. They love me so they always say yes when I ask them and some have even said there is no need to ask anymore. But, after twenty plus years of this, I’m guessing even the most dedicated supporter would prefer not to have to deliver a letter every few weeks.

I suspect that one reason you ask for letters is that you want to see if maybe we know a famous person and can get them to write us a letter. Like, if Paula Vogel wrote a playwright’s recommendation, you’d take that applicant a lot more seriously. You want to know who of your applicants has connections. But the thing of it is, even if I did know Paula Vogel (I’ve only met her once in a totally random non-theatre context,) I wouldn’t ask her for a recommendation. Because Paula Vogel has better things to do than write recommendations. I don’t want her writing recommendations to residencies and whatnot for writers. I want her writing plays. I think, if you really want to know who Paula Vogel recommends, you should just call her up and ask her and every year, you can have a slot for the Vogel recommended writer and she can just send you a list.

With extremely busy famous people, artists have pretty much one favor, one recommendation we can ask for – and I’m sorry to tell you that your residency, grant, award or opportunity is not that thing. (I regret to inform you, that after reviewing your opportunity, we are unable to offer you our favor from a famous person. You must understand that the competition is fierce and there are a lot of opportunities to consider.)

So please – not for me – but for my friends, colleagues and support team – stop asking for recommendations. Please. You don’t have to ask for them. A lot of the more prestigious places I have applied to do not. You don’t have to either. And it’s two or three fewer things you’ll have to read!


An Artist Who Has Missed a Fair Amount of Deadlines Due to Not Realizing She’d Need to Have Asked for Recommendations a Lot Sooner


Bonus Rejection Post:

(Don’t worry, I’ve got a LOT more of these coming – so I thought I’d just tag this one on the end here.)

I keep applying. And I keep getting rejected by the Millay Colony. Luckily, I have support for the persistent “No.” And I recently read a piece that suggested aiming at 100 years rejections a year. I’ve upped my applications a lot in the last few years. But 100 would be a lot. I’ve gotten pretty close to that, if I added up the previous three years – but in order to really reach a hundred rejections this year, I’m going to have to apply to the Millay a whole lot more times.

In January I applied to ten things –which has seemed like a LOT. If I kept up that pace, I’d get to 100 before the end of the year – but January is application season and that was a hell of a lot of applying.

I will say, too, that I’ve done more applying this year than I have before, in part, because my confidence was boosted by a yes. That yes made it seem less impossible that another yes could be forth coming. Maybe if I get another yes, I really could reach 100 rejections this year.

*Wondering why I’m telling you about rejections? Read my initial post about this here and my patron’s idea about that here.

You, too, can help me ease the sting of continual rejection

by becoming my patron on Patreon.

Click HERE to Check out my Patreon Page


This blog is also a Podcast. You can find it on iTunes. If you’d like to listen to me read a previous blog on Soundcloud, click here.


Every podcast features a song at the end. Some of those songs are now an album of Resistance Songs and an album of Love Songs. You can find them on Spotify, my websiteReverbNation, Deezer and iTunes



Writing on the internet is a little bit like busking on the street. This is the part where I pass the hat. If you liked the blog and would like to give a dollar (or more!) put it in the PayPal digital hat.

Pre-Writing the Rejection
February 25, 2016, 10:49 pm
Filed under: Non-Profit, Rejections | Tags: ,

I’m writing this blog for a grant I’m sure I will not get – trying to save time for the inevitable moment when I definitely don’t receive what I asked for. I’ll type it up when I get the confirmation, when I get the notification – but I’m writing it in advance, because I thought of it today and wondered when I’d see that inevitable rejection notice.

I apply for things for my company but I do not expect to get them – mostly because we’ve been around too long to be considered for emerging grants and are not fiscally big enough to be likely candidates for bigger funding. Bigger funding goes to bigger institutions. Big funding likes big boards and big budgets.

As a small, nimble operation, we’re nobody’s best bet for fiscal pay off, for big impact, for all the buzz words of community based funding.

So. . .it’s no surprise that this grant hasn’t come in – so little of a surprise, in fact, that I wrote this BEFORE it came through.

*And, hilariously, this rejection notice never actually arrived. I was waiting and waiting to post and it just never came. Then I got the notice about applying for it again this year and I figured, yeah. . .we didn’t get it. They just didn’t notify us.


*Wondering why I’m telling you about all these rejections? Read my initial post about this here and my patron’s idea about that here.

You can help me weather the storms of rejection by becoming my patron on Patreon.


Click HERE  to Check out my Patreon Page

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