Recently, as an experiment, I posted a very basic question to artists, writers, and curators among my friends and followers on Facebook: What do you need? I deliberately avoided elaboration and left my question open-ended, specifically for the purpose of allowing people to answer however they’d like. To my thinking, they would respond with their most pressing need, as opposed to offering a kind of pie-in-the-sky wish list.
The answers, some seventy or so in total, were surprisingly direct and, for the most part, relatively modest in scope. No one said they needed a million dollars, for example — in fact, several talked about the desire to simply break even. “Time” was the most frequent answer, something that most everyone can relate to, whether or not they are creative. There were also repeated calls for community, mentorship, and inclusiveness, as well innovative new ideas about how to leverage support for artists. The resulting compilation offers a composite view of the answers I received.
Time is what I need. And that pretty much comes down to money, because if art made me money I wouldn’t have to spend my time working for money.
Affordable child care; affordable studio space; affordable health care; affordable housing; affordable public transportation; meaningful, diverse, community engagement; fundamental human rights as essential community values.
Community land trusts, and an end to the capitalist system, … um, let’s start with that.
On a larger scale, I need and would like to see the arts community in the Bay Area become more politically/socially aware, engaged, and active. I know there are a lot of great efforts/projects out there – I’d love to see more. Many of the needs listed here are interrelated to greater forces – e.g. the lack of affordability for housing and studio space related to municipal and state planning, permitting and legislation. Additionally, many of us are having to work much harder and longer hours to pay our basic bills, leaving less time for pursuing our work and connecting more directly. As a community, we have so much power — I’d love to see that leveraged towards more equitable standards in the Bay Area that support a healthier environment for all of us to be able to fulfill our needs and truly flourish individually and collectively.
Less boundaries/borders. Create more of a center that is inclusive. Build a strong network that isn’t so divided. Grants now stop in Alameda County and don’t roll over the hill to Santa Cruz and beyond. I don’t feel it stops there. Currently we have all these isolated scenes- SF, Oakland, Berkley, Palo Alto, San Jose, Santa Cruz… You can see why art fairs have been so successful in the world recently. It is the private sector that has seen this problem and brought it together, replicating a situation (for a weekend) like cities (NYC or Paris) had for decades in the past. SF and beyond have never figured this one out and I feel that is why it has always had an odd reputation in the international art world. I feel it needs to be somewhere virtual and physical. A way to move into a better economy for the artist and also help guide government policy in the favor of better support for the arts and cultural community.
More breaks: opportunities to be seen and heard with out having to pour out savings to create an experience or with out having to be the niche artist of its time. Creating sustainable practices with out worrying about becoming desolate and homeless. No part times rather full time equitable gains with in society. A value that holds steady after wonderful works created.
Artist and Curator
Personally: A stable break-even income. Professionally: Support (funding, career support, etc.) for independent curators.
Would love to do a residency some day but hard to do when trying to run a business. When I seem to have the time I don’t have the inclination, when I have inspiration I am frantically trying to make the time.
I need precarity to no longer be the norm for most “gainful employment” situations related to the arts and/or humanities.
I was poor for a very long time, but making art and happy, I wouldn’t have done it any other way. Now I don’t have as much time for my art, but I still keep _very_ busy with creating and showing my work. These are choices I have made (like having a child) but I wouldn’t be able to live without creating. With all that said, I think the biggest thing we all need is community.
Mentorship is a big thing for me, I am lucky to have some one to work with right now who I can look for feedback and guidance. That is huge for me as I am working on expanding my practice, I look for artists who can help me through this process of creation.
Writer and Curator
Affordable Education. While I didn’t have to go to grad school to be a writer, it adds to my credibility and desire to be with the community that understands and wants to work with me. My education, while I greatly appreciate the experience, is ridiculously expensive. The question that comes to mind is, “How am I going to pay for something that is supposed to benefit me and help me serve the (arts) community, when that same community wouldn’t be able to help sustain me in the long run?”
My first response was audiences — but of course everything everyone has mentioned including freeing time to make work rather all else that goes into securing time, including help with admin/fundraising/publicity/resources/labor.
Matthew Harrison Tedford
One of the things I think about most is readers. Really, I need more readers. Obviously, I already have whatever readership comes with wherever I publish on a given day. But I’m always looking for ways to expand beyond this. There are a few reasons for this. One is practical and business oriented: when my work is more widely seen, I’m more likely to be approached by new publications, people are more likely to know of my work and if, god willing, they don’t hate it, look for it in the future. The more meaningful reason is that I’m clearly not writing about contemporary art for money or fame but because I feel like I have something to say to others. I don’t much care if I write something I’m really proud of that no one reads. Knowing that my work is making it to people’s eyes is what inspires and encourages me more than fancy bylines or whatever.
Christine Wong Yap
A U. S. version of
CARFAC. [CARFAC is a nonprofit advocacy organization for Canadian artists.] And/or, widespread adoption of W. A. G. E. certification. [W. A G. E. is Working Artists and the Greater Economy, a New York-based activist group that focuses on regulating the payment of artist fees by nonprofit arts institutions. W. A. G. E. Certification recognizes organizations that voluntarily adhere to a best practices model and commitment to paying artist fees.] And/or, foundations to require grantees to pay artists for exhibiting.
I want my taxes to go toward guaranteed annual support in the form of grants of real estate and/or rent money for non-profit art organizations. Space for exhibitions, classes, and subsidized studios should be expansive and safe. I think these organizations should be responsible for funding and running their programs and for being active, visible, and valuable in their communities. I would like the city to relieve them of having to worry about affording their buildings. This is one huge thing that would lift these groups up to really make a difference in artist’s lives and in the exchange of art ideas in the city.
If you care about living in a community with art and creativity, prioritize the needs of artists, which incidentally often reflect the most basic needs of a healthy community. Figuring out what artists need isn’t complicated — start by listening.
What do you need to make your work, Reader? Add your thoughts in the Comments section below.