In the next installment of our Financial Literacy for Artists career series, Tamara Bates dishes practical tips on managing uneven income sources and provides several real-life examples.
In Southwest Contemporary’s Financial Literacy for Artists series, we bring you financial content that can apply to artists working in any medium and at any career stage.
Over the past three years, Tamara Bates, founder of the fellowship the dots between, has worked with hundreds of artists in the Southwest and across the country. Her articles share information on the core topics she has been asked about and what she learned as a financial advisor. The images in this series are all from previous dots between fellows.
This is the fifth article in a series exploring financial topics pertinent to artists at different career stages. The columns in this series include:
- What You Need to Know as an Emerging Artist
- What Mid-Career Artists Need to Plan For
- What Late-Career Artists Need to Consider
- Basics of Managing Uneven Income
- Protective Factors for Managing Uneven Income
Protective Factors for Managing Uneven Income
There are several proactive steps to better manage the precarious nature of uneven income—or different streams of income coming in at varying times—to place yourself in a more stable financial position.
Income That Covers Your “Needs” Number
Combatting the uneven income trap can be achieved by setting yourself up for one steady stream of income that covers most or all of your “needs” number—these are monthly fixed expenses that I describe in detail in an earlier column.
This could be a regular teaching job or working for an institution or nonprofit that’s related or unrelated to your field. Ideally, this work will pay you W-2 income, lessening the burden to cover all of your Social Security and Medicare taxes.
Procuring Well-Paid Positions
Another option is having streams of income that, even if they are sporadic, are well-paid. This could be a speaking engagement, a guest artist residency, a series of workshops for a large institution, or another type of work opportunity that comes with a generous stipend. These types of one-off gigs that pay between $500 to $5,000 can supplement your income throughout the year and build your professional resume. It can also make a big difference in how you create a steady financial picture for yourself.
I have seen people getting into financially untenable positions if all of their revenue streams are sporadic. Not having at least one firm stream of revenue can lead you to take work for too low of a rate, or you might take on too many projects at once, which can lead to burnout.
Other Items to Consider
Another helpful factor, if you can, is to schedule your payment periods for when major expenses are due.
It’s important to consider that there’s built-in flexibility in your job(s), where your work commitments don’t prevent you from passing on an opportunity in your field, such as a performance, audition, or gallery exhibition.
Artists may feel like they have somehow failed if they have a job that is not directly related to their artistic output. If this is you, check out this episode of the VVrkshop podcast, which breaks down the stigma around working a day job.
Let’s look at some examples of artists who have grown their revenue streams in the last two years. (These are composites and names have been changed.)
Juin is a printmaker, painter, and ceramicist. They supplement their income with a three-day-a-week job in an unrelated field and have a variety of artwork at different price points from the $300 to $4,500 level. They also have a line of high-end greeting cards in retail spaces.
Yvette is an actress and dancer. Her regular income comes from teaching in public schools and offering private lessons. Several times a year, she gets well-paying film and TV work that supplements her teaching income.
Joshua is a librettist and writer. He received a book advance and transitioned from full-time teaching to supporting himself with two fellowships—one for librettists and one for producing an original ballet that carried him until the book advance came through.
Isaiah has large public art commissions and supplements his income with a t-shirt business and workshops at large institutions throughout the year that pay between $2,500 and $7,500 for a week of teaching, lectures, and workshops.
These examples demonstrate that having a mix of income, and offerings priced at different points and for different audiences, can create a sustainable mix of options for meeting your budgetary needs.
This series will continue next week and into August 2023. If you have a financial question or topic you would like to see addressed, drop us a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Disclaimer: This information is for educational purposes only and should not be construed as official financial, legal, or tax advice. Please seek specific advice for your situation from authorized individuals.