Friday, September 14, 2012

Non profits and artists

 Red Shore
5 x 7    oil

As artists, most of us have alternate jobs that pay the day to day bills and keep us supplied with materials to continue producing our art.  Unless you have a source of limitless wealth or someone who is willing to keep you fed, housed and watered, we all have to work to supplement our art at some point in life. 

We often resent the time spent away from making art and think of it as worthless and impinging on our sacred time that could be spent in the studio instead.  While I often have those feelings too, I think about how the job I have done has helped me in my career as an artist.

I manage a non-profit.  If you have ever worked in that field, you'll know instantly what its like.  If you have only worked in the public or private sector, you'll have no idea of the challenges that come with the territory.

Working for a non profit almost mirrors being an artist.  So many of the same issues arise and are dealt with in similar ways.  What are the similarities?

1.  The workload is huge and often done by one person or in conjunction with volunteers.
2.  There is never enough money to do everything you want (or sometimes need) to do.
3.  Time is spent chasing grants and donations that a thousand others are chasing.
4.  The work is often solitary without input from others or reward.
5.   The pay is below average for the work involved.
6.   There is a stigma to some degree working outside the mainstream

The benefits of this work experience for artists are these:

1.  You learn the ability to work by yourself.  No conversations with coworkers, no chatter over lunch.
2.   You learn to be creative with a limited budget and you understand financial management.
3.   You learn to become multifunctional and work with all levels of people and all levels of work.
4.   You understand marketing.
5.   You understand the commitment of others who work for no pay - volunteers. 
6.   You learn that not everything is based on labels and dollars.

Are you beginning to see the correlation between the two careers?  Without my long background in non profit work, I would not have had the experience in the business side of art.  Non profits provide entreprenurial skills that few other jobs do.  In art school, business should be a required component of the curriculum, instead of an aside or worse still, an idea planted in young heads that selling art is 'selling out'.  What other degree would you train for that discouraged you to make money from your training!?

The training in business that I did and have built on through working in the non profit field has broadened my ability to function as a visual artist as well as a business person.  Could I have done one as effectively without the other?  I doubt it.   Time constraints for art compete with daily work, but if you want anything badly enough, you find time for it.

So for all the artists working in jobs, day or night, think of the skills you are honing that can transfer to your art career and be thankful that the job you are paid regularly for helps smooth the path to your art work.


Gary L. Everest said...

Good Evening Jeanette,
Great post. Well-written and straight from the heart.
I hope you enjoy your weekend--away from the non-profit!

Jeanette said...

Hello Gary,

This weekend there is no non profit work in my agenda. Next weekend, its a different story. Overtime sort of goes with the territory, a bit like creating art. :)

RH Carpenter said...

Thanks for sharing this. I have never worked for a non-profit and found it very interesting. I'm sure you've taken everything you've learned and applied it to your art career.

Sue Pownall said...

Thanks for your thoughts. You are right we do get a lot of things from our alternative jobs.

I am very thankful for mine for its billpaying ability BUT I need to do a different alternative... I resent it more and more every day. :(