Pay Artists!

I recently attended the “Artists Thr!ve Summit” hosted by the Emily Hall Tremaine Foundation. Artists Thr!ve is a rubric, a tool, to help organizations in the arts services sector determine if and to what extent their work supports artists: do artists give up, struggle, survive, or thrive? The summit’s program was peppered with visits to studios and galleries, as well as an all-day bus tour of cultural organizations in Eastern Kentucky. Both the Appalachian Media Insitute, a program of Appalshop, and the Berea Artist Accelerator seem to have figured out a simple but impactful way to reach the goal of “artists thrive” – PAY THEM!!

The newer program, the Berea Artists Accelerator, supports early career artists and artisans with space, training, and a monthly stipend that amounts to a living wage with enough left over to buy their materials. In an “artisan’s town” the program is community economic development initiative. Appalshop’s AMI program has been around for almost 30 years. It provides PAID summer training internships:

The work of AMI youth producers has been heard on NPR’s Morning Edition and All Things Considered, screened at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City and the Sundance Film Festival, and recognized with the Coming Up Taller award presented by Hillary Clinton. While documentaries made by AMI youth producers have been seen by audiences from across the United States and across the world, many pieces have had their biggest impacts in local dialogues and debates surrounding issues such as domestic violence, prejudice, drug abuse, and youth activism.

As a consequence of these programs, young artists and artisans stay in their community, stay off drugs (a big problem in rural Kentucky), and produce work of lasting impact. In short, they thrive! And, while the communities around them are certainly distressed, Berea and, too a lesser extant Whitesburg, seem to be doing OK too.

(photo of artisans working in the Berea Artists Accelerator)

EDITED FOR CLARIFICATION: These programs are, notably, supporting *early* career artists and artisans, in the Accelerator case giving them small business training, so that they can go on to be independent creative producers in a sustainable way after “graduation” from the respective programs.

About lindaessig

Linda Essig is Dean of the College of Arts & Letters at Cal State LA and principal/owner of Creative Infrastructure LLC. The opinions expressed on creativeinfrastructure are her own and not those of Cal State LA. You can follow her on twitter @LindaInPhoenix.
This entry was posted in Arts entrepreneurship, Arts funding, arts infrastructure, Arts policy, Culture and democracy, Institutional Infrastructure, Physical Infrastructure and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Pay Artists!

  1. I agree, Linda, to a certain extent. But the money that is being used to pay them comes from, I suspect, grants and fundraising — in other words, as is usually the case, artists are relying on wealthy people to kindly give them handouts. And that’s how we’ve done it for decades. But it seems to me that the promise of arts entrepreneurship is to find ways for artists to be independent of that need and take control of the means of production in a way that allows them freedom to create while at the same time being connected to the wants and needs of an audience. Don’t get me wrong, Appalshop is amazing, and does really wonderful stuff. But it is an arts organization that is based on a typical NFP model and its founders are often heard decrying the low level of government funding for the arts. It seems to me as entrepreneurship would research methods to break out of dependency.

    • lindaessig says:

      Scott: I think these programs are actually supporting your perspective — they are supporting early career artists and artisans, in the Accelerator case giving them small business training, so that they can go on to be independent creative producers in a sustainable way. (I probably should have made that clear in my post, which I wrote in some haste).

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