When the very talented Kat Kohl contacted me with her story of how she survives financially as an artist in New York City, I really appreciated what she had to say because being an artist in ANY city is tricky (amiright?!). Also, I often get questions about how to live in New York City on the cheap (one time I heard someone say that the only way to do it is, “Don’t Live In New York City”).
Kat determined her priorities, and she’s actively molding her days to create a life that reflects her values and goals. She’s choosing to make her dreams happen.
Here’s Kat’s story…
I’m a regular reader of And Then We Saved, and have utilized many of Anna’s tips within the past year. By making many MAJOR cutbacks on unnecessary items like clothing, going-out, and by eliminating Christmas gift exchanges with friends, I was able to save enough to attend an artist residency in Iceland. I took a 1 month leave of absence from my job so that meant that I had to fund my flight, residency, and essentials in Iceland all while still paying my New York apartment rent and my student loan! Thankfully, I was able to apply some vacation days, and I also received half my flight cost as a birthday gift from my parents, but having an apartment in Manhattan (that I share with 2 roommates) in addition to an art studio in Brooklyn means my hard costs are extremely high. I hope that my story below will help other young artists see that IT IS possible to hit the ground running in New York City while navigating the art scene, and also surviving financially.
This is how I do it:
I work as a Project Manager at Duggal, a fine art/graphics/custom display fabrication company that serves artists, museum, and retail clients around the globe. I earn a base salary + commission on my personal sales. My base covers all my necessary expenses with some left over, but my real “extra” cash comes from my commission check. I try to save as much of my commission check as possible for “rainy days”- such as when my computer died and I had to buy a new MacBook 2 days before I left for Iceland.
Once I was in NYC, I was so busy working in my studio that I hardly had time to go out with all the work I was doing in my studio on the nights and weekends. Early on I made a budget to see where every bit of my paycheck was going. I had to be realistic about the exact amount I had left-over every month.
I’ve only been to a movie or concert twice in the past 3 years. When I do go out, I look at the costs of drinks and food and choose very carefully.
Since my student loan is fixed I don’t benefit financially from paying it off sooner even if I wrote the loan company a check for the entire balance tomorrow. Also, as long as I have it, it provides me with a bit of a tax break. Some debt can be GOOD debt.
And how to be a young artist in New York City…
1. Keep the momentum going immediately after graduation
Just because professors aren’t giving you assignments to complete doesn’t means you should take a break. There shouldn’t be gaps on your professional resume, or on your artist c.v.. Galleries and buyers are more interested in your work if they see that there is a constant effort or progression on your end. This demonstrates to them that in the long run, your work would be a good investment because you are continuing to develop as an artist, thus raising the value of your work and interest of collectors.
2. Apply for grants
Grants are VERY hard to come by, and extremely difficult to obtain in New York because of all the competition. It is important to continuously apply for them though, but I would not DEPEND on them solely to create work and establish a studio. Also since galleries, dealers and buyers don’t want to visit your apartment to view your work, this means I needed a studio, and I made it my mission to find an affordable one.
Be willing to be flexible and share the space with others to reduce the cost
3. Network CONSTANTLY
I make it a habit to always have postcards of my work on me (it must include your contact information), because you never know who you will run into. You just might just meet someone who is a great connection.
4. Determine the cost of your studio rent by day
Consider that every day you don’t go, you lose X amount of money.
I think about how when I’m not working, someone else IS. THAT really gets me going!
5. View your studio as a small business
This means I need to spend money on supplies: a “storefront”, a website, and postcards/business cards for networking. However, you have to be realistic. Ask yourself if you are giving it 100% or not. If you are only giving a 25-50% effort, you should truly evaluate the cost of doing it “professionally” vs. “personally” as a hobby.
6. Don’t sell out, but be open to suggestions
Dealers are excellent studio guests because they know and will share with you what sells, what doesn’t, and what would showcase your work best. It is in their personal best interest to give you honest feedback, because they will be happy to represent you to their clientele if they think your work will sell.
Really evaluate their advice: is their suggestion an idea that can really improve and expand your work, or does it compromise your vision entirely?
7. PAY IT FORWARD
As a sculptor, I’ve utilized the help of many friends and family members for hauling, installing, and taking down my work. When given the opportunity, I do the same for others. Not only does it cut costs, but at the end of the day, the art world is a social network and a community. When other artist friends or gallery owners you know have an opening, you should attend as a show of support, and it will be reciprocated when your own work is being shown.
Do you have insider tips for surviving in your field? Think you could make it work as an artist in New York City? I’m curious, what do you think the biggest obstacle would be?
Would you like to be a contributor on a topic related to personal finance? Send me an email at: email@example.com. (Please know that credit or lending companies will not be considered. Only real people with real stories and experiences should email.)
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