Sunday, October 30, 2011

Artists Are The 99 Percent

Last week I was captivated by the stories people shared on the We Are The 99 Percent Tumblr.  It's really sad to see how much suffering the recession has wrought.  Sadder still to see that I'm not the only one who can't afford to get married, hasn't been able to find work in my field even after going back to school repeatedly, and has felt the anguish of self-loathing, depression, and shame as a result.  I noticed some common threads among the stories.  The economic upheavals much of the 99 percent were experiencing seemed mainly to be caused by unemployment, disabilities, the high cost of health care (with or without insurance), student loan debts, and divorce.  Many of the stories came from people in professions where the pay is low or else fluctuates wildly, especially teachers, social workers, and entrepreneurs.  And several of these entrepreneurs are artists.

Here are some of their pictures, and excerpts from their stories.  Click the photos to read more about these artists.

I am 24 years old, a talented artist with a bachelors degree, but that doesn’t help me at all.
I work more than 40 hours a week, and live paycheck to paycheck. I have so much debt, I can barely afford to even buy train fare to GET TO WORK.

I’m 23 years old, I graduate from college in December with a degree in graphic design. I’m in debt up to my eyeballs and I can’t find work in my field. The only work I can find is part time for $8, which doesn’t go far when your trying to make bills and put food on the table. I am engaged but my fiance and I cannot afford to even plan our wedding. I have a dress but I cant marry the man I love, let alone put food on the table. I work for less then $15,000 a year, I help my parents and sisters and try and keep my own house going, but I payed more in taxes last year the GE and other big companies. We need change and we need it now.
I am the 99%

28, college grad (Bachelor of Fine Arts). Scored graphic design job in 2007, lost it in the 2008 meltdown. Unemployed 9 months in 2009, broke down in tears once. 

I’m an artist with an entrepreneurial spirit. I could be doing so much more, if I was only given the chance. As a multi-cultural, college-educated, world-traveled female, I occupy a liminal space that could be of great benefit to our nation as it sags under the weight of inflexibility and dread. Allow me to help build the future while trying to honor the past. You should be so lucky to have someone like me!

I am an artist but I continue to work 2 jobs, sometimes 3 or 4, I volunteer and sit on committees.
I make beautiful things and people don’t buy beautiful things in a recession.
When I am lucky enough to sell something through a gallery, they take a 50% cut.

Funny that, being an artist, the only piece of paper I could spare was the back of an envelope - but I guess life really has been that tough… enough so that I couldn’t find anything to do a re-write on if I wanted to, save for many, many smaller envelopes that come from debt collectors.
I can program in 20 languages, know every graphic design app there is - I have tons of fan mail to sift through and reply to every day - and yet, I ate one meal today, like yesterday - paid for by scrounging change and returning bottles.

I am 55 year old “starving artist”.
Never expected anything but struggle doing what I do, so I am not disrillusioned about ending up at my age with very little to show for it and no security.

I have covered up my face in this photo because being poor, educated and out of work is embarrassing. I’m 28. I graduated in December 2009 with a Bachelors in Graphic Design from a top school...The few job interviews I had in my field were nerve-wracking group job interviews where I was staring my competition of seven or eight people, young and old, in the face competing for one job position. In other professional job interviews, I was told that I was competing against people who “worked in the industry” who had decades of experience. I have a better chance of winning the lottery than getting a job. There is a huge demand for my design work, yet no one wants to actually pay for my services. I end up literally FREE-lancing my design work.

I am an artist, a graphic designer with over 20 years experience as a creative director. I was a small business owner for 11 years. Insurance went way up, rent went up, Utilities went up, the cost of living went up, while our earnings either stayed the same or went down for more work. The bank refused to give us a loan or a line of credit. All we needed was a little help for short amount of time. The bank left us and our employees twisting in the wind. We lost our small, family owned business, our life’s work - we lost our American Dream - or more aptly put, it was stolen from us.

I am a 22 year old politically active artist and painter. I am a student at Otis College of Art and Design with thousands of dollars of student loans that will have me in debt for years. I depend on my parents financially, which makes me feel guilty as they struggle themselves. Because I am a full time student, I cant get a job, but even if i wanted one I couldn’t get one because you need job experience to get a job, but you need a job to get experience so I’m kinda stuck.

My girlfriend is a writer and i’m a thespian and painter. she works for 9/hr cleaning buildings and i work for a small florist. we've all but given up on our american dreams.

Isn't that sad?  So many artists who have given up their dreams, or may never begin to pursue them in the first place.  Here are a few facts the National Endowment of the Arts compiled in 2009 on employment in the arts:

  • Artists are unemployed at twice the rate of professional workers, a category in which artists are grouped because of their high levels of education. The artist unemployment rate grew to 6.0 percent in the fourth quarter of 2008, compared with 3.0 percent for all professionals. A total of 129,000 artists were unemployed in the fourth quarter of 2008, an increase of 50,000 (63 percent) from one year earlier. The unemployment rate for artists is comparable to that for the overall workforce (6.1 percent).
  • Unemployment rates for artists have risen more rapidly than for U.S. workers as a whole. The unemployment rate for artists climbed 2.4 percentage points between the fourth quarters of 2007 and 2008, compared to a one-point increase for professional workers as a whole, and a 1.9 point increase for the overall workforce.
  • Artist unemployment rates would be even higher if not for the large number of artists leaving the workforce. The U.S. labor force grew by 800,000 people from the fourth quarter of 2007 to the fourth quarter of 2008. In contrast, the artist workforce shrank by 74,000 workers. Some of this decline may be attributed to artists’ discouragement over job prospects.
  • Unemployment rose for most types of artist occupations. Artist jobs with higher unemployment rates are performing artists (8.4 percent), fine artists, art directors, and animators (7.1 percent), writers and authors (6.6 percent), and photographers (6.0 percent).
  • The job market for artists is unlikely to improve until long after the U.S. economy starts to recover. Unemployment is generally a lagging economic indicator, or a measure of how an economy has performed in the past few months. During the prior recession (2001), artist unemployment did not reach its peak of 6.1 percent until 2003 – two years after economic recovery began nationwide.

It seems that artistic endeavors, at least in this country, are primarily accessible to the privileged classes.  Several artists over at We are the 1 Percent: We Stand with the 99 Percent regret that this is so.

My family comes from middle-class beginnings both in America and Romania. Both my mother and my father have worked their entire lives to give me, an only child, a good life. I am 19 and have my own apartment, I have a full ride to college and am working on an art degree, I am insured and have never gone without healthcare in my life.
I get upset if stores don’t have the right color hair dye or if I can’t get my coffee for the day, and I feel guilty for this.
I do not work because I do not have to.
I wear designer shoes to my art classes.
Tax me, because health care shouldn’t be a privelege, it should be a right. 
Tax me, because I don’t need that coffee as much as someone else needs that prescription.
I am the 1%, I stand with the 99%.

 "We should all be able to afford following our dreams," the last poster wrote.  And yet this recession is a poisonous climate for artists right now, as collectors stop buying, grants become less available and art programs get cut from school budgets.  You shouldn't need a trust fund to be an artist, or a wealthy spouse to be a designer, and yet those seem to be the prerequisites to a sustainable creative career right now.  As a result the gap between established and emerging artists widens, and the public doesn't get to see work by artists in marginalized communities.  The art world becomes an echo chamber where the voices of artists who are the darlings of the 1% are heard repeatedly, yet drown out those of less well-connected newcomers.  Discouraged, many just give up.

Another barrier to entry is the prohibitive cost of many art programs.  So many are now being offered by for-profit schools that were purchased by large corporations more concerned about their bottom line than helping students afford an education that will prepare them to pursue their dreams.  Why do so many art students end up at these schools?  Often, its is because they offer specialized programs that more traditional private and state schools do not.  That was why I chose Harrington.  The closest community college offering courses in interior design is all the way out in the western suburbs, though now I wish I'd made the long commute from Hyde Park to College of DuPage and avoided Sallie Mae.

Working full time while going to art school can also be a challenge, if not impossible, because of the time it takes to create a good project.  Courses that require reading have assignments that working students can complete during lunch breaks, downtime, and while commuting.  But art and design projects require the time for trial and error and starting all over again, in addition to conceptualization and research.  My own grades in design school suffered during the semesters when I worked full-time.  I just didn't have the time to work to the best of my abilities.

Another problem is that there are not enough substantial scholarships for students in the arts.  Some are very small and would barely cover the cost of a year's worth of supplies or tuition for a single course.  Others are nearly as competitive as American Idol, with a big prize that only goes to a single talented winner.  They are few and far between in interior design, and the pittance that some of the ASID and IIDA "scholarships" offer is insulting.  They'd rather take the funds they've raised and spend them on lobbying in Washington to keep more aspiring designers out of the profession than help design students.

All of these factors can leave art students stuck footing the bill for an education in a field that doesn't always pay their bills.  It saddens me that there is not more funding for the arts in this country.  We focus so much on technology and the sciences, and encourage women and people of color to enter these fields with generous funding, but not everyone wants to be a scientist or computer programmer.  Nor is everyone good at it.  (After 3 years at a math & science high school, I know I'm not!) Some of us are better suited to other professions and could contribute so much more to society if we were doing meaningful work that we have a natural aptitude for.  Some choose to get an MFA and teach at the college level, but there are not enough positions available.  Many have to settle for becoming adjunct professors with few benefits and low pay.

I am glad to see so many artists speaking out on this issue and advocating for change.  Let us work to create a future where the expression "starving artist" references a mythical archetype and not an economic reality.  You can start by sharing your story at one of these sites:

We are the 99 Percent
We are the 1 Percent: We Stand with the 99 Percent
Occupy Student Debt

I Support No More Starving Artists

A couple resources for creatives in Chicago:

The Institute for Arts Entrepreneurship, whose motto is "No More Starving Artists"

Klein Artist Works, Courses by Art Career Advisor Paul Klein

Friday, October 28, 2011

My Featured Guest Artist for November: Dovile Riebschlager

My featured guest artist for November is Dovile Riebschlager.  I had the pleasure of meeting her and seeing her work in some art fairs over the summer and I am so excited that she will be showing her work in my studio next month.  I really love the energy in her lines and the colors that she uses.

Here are a few of her paintings:

Here's what Dovile has to say about her art in her artist statement:

Fertility, women, layers, colors... how you say what you feel with colors and abstract forms? What those rounded forms mean? No matter how I start the result is abstract biological forms, feminine in feel. Sometimes amoeba, sometimes womb-like, but always talking about complexity of life in it's ever changing forms. In my portraits I try to portray the layered, infinite, ageless side of femininity.

Come and join us  for art and light refreshments.  As always, the open studio is free and open to the public.

Friday, November 11, 2011
6 - 9 p.m.
The Fine Arts Building
Studio 632F
410 S. Michigan Ave.
Chicago, IL

Saturday, October 22, 2011

My first IndieGoGo campaign: raising funds for The Doll Project show next April

I've got exciting news:  I have the opportunity to feature work from The Doll Project in a show about women and the media at Flourish Studios in Chicago.  It's given me the motivation I needed to finish what I've started.  But in order to take this phase of the project from start to finish, I need additional funds.  So I set up a campaign on IndieGoGo.

For those of you unfamiliar with the site, here's what it's about.  It's a crowdfunding platform that allows multiple donors to make a contribution towards raising funds for a project.

Now that you know about IndieGoGo, let me tell you what my goal is.  I want to raise $500 by December 1st. And with your help, I can do it.  But this isn't a campaign where I get something for nothing.  You will be rewarded for your donation.  Every donor will get a signed print from The Doll Project.  You can choose any photo you like, though it will not be framed.  The more you give, the larger the photo you can get.  So if you give $10, you can get a 4 x 6 print, and if you give $100, you can get a 12 x 16 print.

And if you can't afford to make a financial contribution but would still like to help, you can use the social media plug-ins on the campaign page to spread the word via Facebook, Twitter, e-mail, and your own blogs.

Please visit the site below to find out more.  I look forward to updating you on my progress.

American Autumn #OWS

What happens to a dream deferred?
Does it dry up
Like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore-
And then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over-
Like a syrupy sweet?
Maybe it just sags
Like a heavy load.
Or does it explode?

"Harlem" by Langston Hughes

Occupy Chicago Protest March 274
photo by Michael Kappel

Our lost generation, having graduated into a lost decade, has finally found its purpose and its voice.  I don't know what took us all so long.  For too long discussions of the issues we were struggling with were atomized into too many far corners and niches of the Internet, from the boards at Quarterlife Crisis to the varied Facebook groups of the student loan justice movement.  Finally, in cities across America and even across the globe, we have converged upon public spaces to call attention to the issues that matter so much to us.

I have written off and on about these issues here on this blog.  I  have detailed my frustration with the economy, my disgust with the licensing laws governing the field of interior design, and my battle with my arch nemesis, Sallie Mae.  I have also written on my other blog about what it was like to work in a store that was going out of business due to corporate greed, as well as how it felt to be mal-employed in retail.  I have graduated into three recessions and/or job market downturns, first in 2001, then in 2006, and finally in 2009.  There is evidence that those who graduate in recessions earn less over their lifetimes than those who do not.  That certainly has been the case for me so far.  I am finally earning the kind of money I'd hoped to make 10 years ago, but can't really enjoy it because most of it goes toward servicing debts I racked up when I was broke.

None of my degrees have paid off for me financially.  Many of my friends' degrees haven't paid off, either.  Sure, some of them were humanities majors.  A few are writers who lost jobs in print media or never got to work for a magazine or publishing company in the first place.  Some people would chide them for not studying something in the sciences or technology.  With them, I'd like to share the sad tale of my fiance, who after 10 years of rejection and mal-employment, had no other choice but to go back to graduate school to make himself more employable in his field, which is engineering.  Still, he is better off than this electrical engineer with multiple advanced degrees who is now homeless. So much for the STEM careers being the magic bullet to fix everything.

The system that so many of us were taught to work within is not working anymore.  As kids we were told by our parents, teachers, and even celebrities in public service announcements to work hard, stay in school, and go to college.  Borrowing for college meant taking on "good debt."  Going to college was supposed to be the price you paid to get a good job.  But many of the good jobs are gone, or have too many applicants and not enough openings.  A lot of the good jobs were lost in the recession, and the new ones that have been created in its wake do not pay well.  (Thanks, job creators!)  So many new graduates can attest to that, as can those facing unemployment in this crappy job market.  And people of color were hit hardest by the recession.  And things still haven't gotten much better.

I'm thankful to have a job at a time like this.  My job is like a lifeboat in an ocean full of sinking ships. As the great catastrophe of joblessness spreads across industries, it seems like no field is safe.  At first I lamented the dearth of interior design jobs and later I berated myself for not choosing something "safer."  By now the "safe" jobs in the public sector aren't even safe anymore.  And I recently read that even on Wall Street they might be laying people off soon.  Who can say how long it will be before my own "lifeboat" springs a leak?

Unfortunately, this level of empathy has too often been lacking in the discourse about unemployment, mal-employment, and debt online.  I have read countless stories and message board posts that drew hateful comments from smug people who brag about how they made all the right decisions who ask why they should be obligated to help others who are less fortunate.  After all, if you can't find a job in this supposed land of opportunity, it's all your fault.  And can we really call impoverished Americans poor if they have a refrigerator and a TV at home?  They deny the reality that things have gotten much worse for the poor in this country since the recession began and would accuse them of being lazy and looking for a handout.

Now I don't want to generalize and paint all the people who work in finance or for large corporations with the same broad brush.  There are so many good, decent, kind, generous individuals working for large corporations and on Wall Street and in Chicago's financial district. I don't think it's fair to characterize all the people who work in a particular industry as villains.  Sometimes good people work for a bad system.  Take it from me, I used to sell carpet.

But with some of these corporations, as with carpet retailers, what's problematic is the system the industry works within.  I understand that corporations need to make a profit, but when banks charge people to use their own money, I have a problem with that.  When they foreclose on homes without getting all the facts straight first, I have a problem with that.  And what about loans?  It's one thing to owe and pay interest on a reasonable sum of borrowed money, and another for the debt to become a form of modern-day indentured servitude.  That's why people are protesting the student loan lending system, which currently does not allow protections like bankruptcy or even--in the case of private loans--refinancing.  So many who have borrowed money for higher education in the years since the rules on student loan lending were changed are crushed by the burden of their debts.

Some  have fled the country while others have been driven to suicide

With all the frustration and despair that has beset the foreclosed-upon, the downwardly mobile, the long-term unemployed and the mal-employed, the only thing I find surprising about this movement is that it took so long to actually happen.  That some politicians are "surprised" by its rapid spread just shows how out of touch they are with their constituents and the real issues they face.  Many names for this movement have been circulating, with the general consensus being The American Awakening.  But I think American Autumn is also quite fitting.  In autumn the leaves turn brilliant shades of gold, orange, and red.  But these colors were there all along, though the chlorophyll the trees produced in the spring and summer made their dominant color green.  This movement is like the color of the leaves.  Things that were once hidden are now vibrantly displayed.

from article, "Student loan debts crush an entire generation"

99 Percenters


photos by akagoldfish

I find myself inspired to work on some new Recessionist pieces. 


I'm going to have a lot of fun with that winking Ben Franklin. The caption next to him reads, "This time will be different!"

Yeah, we'll see.

In the meantime, a few of my favorite articles on the subject:

Roger Ebert, "The One Percenters" (written several months ago, actually)
Jim Forbes, "Occupy Wall Street will not come to our utopia"
Alisha L. Gordon, "Occupy Any Street: The Deferment of the American Dream"
Barbara Ehrenreich, "The Guys in the 1% Brought This On"
David Sirota, "Pitying billionaires as America starves"
Mike Konczal, "What do the '1 percent' actually do?"
Charlotte Hill and Robert Fuller, "Occupy Wall Street and the Promise of Dignity"
Jay Smooth, "Outing the Ringers"

Friday, October 21, 2011

Chicago Artists Month, Day 21: Bridgeport

Those of you who have been following this blog may remember that I've had two events in Bridgeport before, both at the Bridgeport Art Center. Both times I wondered what the artists there were working on. Tonight I finally had a chance to take a look at some of their studios and see.

Julian Williams

Deborah Ervin

DSC06189 copy1000px


DSC06196 copy1000px

Jens Brasch

Eunice Carson is a photographer who is doing a really interesting installation piece about social media as a constructed identity.  When you visit her studio, you can experience all the things she "Likes" on Facebook in person.  So she has her favorite books on display and her favorite movies playing.  Here is the wall outside her studio:


And that's not all.  I went down into the basement and discovered a trio of intrepid entrepreneurs.  I had a great time talking with Hal Link of Halldoor Woodworking.  He has an extensive knowledge of woodworking and can take on projects from the rustic to the refined.

Then I met Tony from Spatial Alterations, another talented carpenter with a great portfolio of custom casegoods and built-in work.

While I was there, I met Relana from Good Gyrrl, which looks like a great place to host the bachelorette party for the Wedding that is Probably Never Going to Happen.  But I digress...  Good Gyrrl offers fitness classes for women who want to embrace their sensual sides.  They sound like a lot of fun.  The space looks great and I feel bad I didn't get any pictures of it last night. But here is their logo:

Ladies, check them out if you want a fun, new way of exercising.  I personally recommend bellydance.

After that, I went over to the open studios at Zhou B.  I just love their cafe. 


Then I went to check out the JAWAchic (Jewelry and Wearable Art Chicago) Show.


Scarves from Alice Berry Studio

I only had about an hour to look around, so I went to as many studios as I could. I'm sorry I didn't get the names of all the artists whose work is featured below, but I've linked to as many of them as I could.

Sally Ko

Brigitte Wolf





Dagmar Bruehmueller

Keiko Nemeth

Yva Neal





Clarisse Perrette

And in the 33 Contemporary Gallery on the first floor, I was pleased to see that my former professor Javier Chavira, former classmate Hector Hernandez, and Fine Arts Building neighbor Jennifer Cronin all had paintings on display in the InFusion Show.

I just love Javier's new painting in this show!  It's so striking.

The Bridgeport Art Walk continues through the weekend and is free and open to the public.

Zhou B Art Center open studios:
1029 W. 35th St.
Chicago, IL 60609
Saturday, October 22: 12-6 p.m.
Sunday, October 23: 12-5 p.m.

Bridgeport Art Center open studios:
1200 W. 35th Street
Chicago, IL 60609
Saturday, October 22: 1-6 p.m.
Sunday, October 23: 1-5 p.m
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...

Share This Post