Art Work Part 3: Funding Your Art Career
Illustration by Erin McPhee
You’ve decided to pursue a career in the arts. You know it will be hard, but you also know it will be worth it. You’ve also armed yourself well by taking every possible art class and studying the plethora of artists whose classmates never thought they would amount to anything.
One doesn’t have to spend years studying art to find examples of artists who came from difficult backgrounds and turned their experience into something profound. A currently popular example is Maya Angelou, a highly prolific author who turned her experiences with racism into books of beautiful poetry.
Still, as much as the rough times can be turned into inspiration for beautiful art and you know to expect them, you’d like to be able to do this art thing without starving or living on the street. So how do you get the funds?
Most artists start out with a day job. If you’re breaking into the job market right now and you’re truly dedicated to your art part time work might be the best option for you. After all, you might already be making some money from your art, but odds are it’s not consistent. Having a stable income, even a small one, can keep your stomach full between art gigs.
Other artists survive using a combination of art sales and grants. There are dozens of arts-based grants in Canada, all provided by different institutions for different things in different locations. They range in size from a few hundred dollars to several thousand.
Yet most of these grants are difficult for a young artist to attain. Many require you to be out of school for over a year and have a certain amount of professional work in your portfolio. Writing grants only recognize paid work done in print, so if you’ve been writing online for a few years, you still can’t get a grant. Each grant comes with its own challenges, which are often disproportionately difficult for youth to meet.
There are also many different grants offered to youth, but most are specifically for training programs.
If you’re not eager to enrol in a training program right now, your options are more limited. Still, there are ways to find funding so you can start building your career as an artist. Some are grants designed specifically for students or youth eager to start their own business. Others are designed to help marginalized groups such as young women or people from visible minorities. If you want to start a youth led arts program, there are many more funding opportunities out there.
Finding the grant that’s right for you and your needs can be difficult, but these funding opportunities can propel your career forward and allow you to skip the 9 to 5 life.
Here are a couple to get you started:
The YES Summer Company program(http://www.yes.on.ca/summer-company/) gives students who will be returning to school the next year an opportunity to start their own business during the summer. The application process is all written and includes filling out a lengthy business plan, which is a good idea for any professional artist anyway. They’ll give you $1500 at the beginning of the summer and if your business does well and you follow through you can get another $1500 for school in September. Applications were due before the school year was out, but if you’re going to be in school for a while longer this is a great chance for you to start building your business early.
The ArtReach Youth Pitch Contest(http://www.artreachtoronto.ca/about.html) is an annual contest where youth can pitch their ideas to a panel of judges in competition for $5, 000. Second place is $2, 500.There are two categories: community programs and career development. They ask for a written application, usually due in the late summer, and hold a few training sessions for the finalists in each category to help you prepare your pitch. Sometime in October, these artists pitch their ideas in the Art Gallery of Ontario and the judges—all professional artists themselves—choose the winners.
You may have noticed that the grants I’ve chosen are specific to Ontario. Most art and business grants for youth are managed by the provincial or municipal levels of government. Others are provided by non-profits, but the vast majority are specific to a region, often a fairly small one. Your own search with funding should always start with local organizations.
When it comes to the arts, you’ll often be told your age is a disadvantage. To some extent that’s true. It will be harder to get people to recognize you as a professional. But as a young woman or trans person, you have a unique advantage. You already know you love the arts. Many people don’t figure that out until their mid-life crisis—or spend decades ignoring their passion.
Go for it now, and even if the first few years are rough, in ten years you will be way ahead of somebody who waited until they were older to start their career in the arts.