Five Things I Learned About Money From Being an Artist

I have made, toured, and curated a LOT of art over the last 15 years. I didn’t have a patron or a trust fund — and I definitely learned a lot along the way.

1. If you tell yourself you “have to wait until you have money” to make your art or live your live, you might have to wait a looong time.

So, don’t wait. There are many ways to be a creative that don’t require the money you don’t have: DIY shows and touring, digital platforms, community gigs…the pic below is from a series of community tours where we’d throw our $1s and $5s around the van and laugh (and then clean them up to buy dinner.)

But, don’t settle either. When it’s time to get paid: GET FREAKIN PAID. Setting yourself up as a self-employed sole proprietor small business will legitimize you to your bookings, and give you tax-reduction benefits as well.

2. Creative thinking will get you far.

As will creative dressing, creative shopping, and creative fundraising (like sliding scale tickets)We all know that artists are culture creators, so don’t get it twisted: it’s your world, creative ones. You question the order of musical notes or a sentence, of an image or a video sequence:  why not systemic disorder, why not mass inequality, why not petty bureaucracy. If the way things are is off, you know there’s ways around and through. We’re not on this planet to make or spend money, we just unfortunately need to spend money to be on this planet at this time in history. We can think about how that fact could be different.

Bag by Heather Acs, "this is what we have..." series.
Bag by Heather Acs, “this is what we have…” series.

3. People say artists are disorganized, but I think we’re just really smart and hyper-engaged. The trick? Do one thing at a time.

You can be good at lots of things, and be involved in lots of stuff [I am!] but at any given moment, you can only excel at one thing. Try letting yourself excel in brief stints. Try just doing one thing for the next half-hour – no other things – and see how far you get.

4. Call. CALL. Just pick up the phone and C-A-L-L.

This works when booking a tour, and this works when trying to get your money sorted. The other week I called to get a late payment (oops!) removed from my credit card. When I wanted to find out how to cross the border with merch, I called to get answers. When I needed to address how messed up my student loans were, it was a call that started the fixing process. It’s always better to call.

5. You don’t have to be famous to be important, you just need to like what you’re doing or making — so do things the way you like to whenever possible.

You don’t have to be perfect to be smart, important, and valuable. You don’t even have to be the best – but let yourself be good. Let yourself do things your way. Like poet Mary Oliver says, Let the soft animal of your body love what it loves.

Let your brain have space to make art — and deal with the business of your art to make that easier. Let your light shine, and never fear your success – prepare for it. Make room for it. If you don’t make the space for your successes, no one else is gonna do it for you. Setting up a life the way you like isn’t easy but damn it is worth it.