by Brandy Gale
A real jobI realized the bohemian life was not for me. I would look around at my friends, living like starving artists, and wonder, ‘Where’s the art?’ They weren’t doing anything. And there was so much interesting stuff to do, so much fun to be had… maybe I could even quit renting. - P. J. O’Rourke
The myth of the starving artist has always entertained me.
Just like any other, art can be a reasonably lucrative career choice provided the artist possesses a little business acumen. But this knowledge is rarely taught to young artists dreaming of being the next Hirst or Goldsworthy. So many of us have heard the tired phrase from those who subscribe to the myth: “Art is a hobby, go get a real job!”
This week I toured a large artist cooperative gallery in Santa Cruz County, California. Scotts Valley Artisans showcases 5,600 square feet of local art that reflects the many types of personalities, interests and values of the membership. Gallery owner Dawn Teall and I enjoyed a spirited discussion about non-profit co-ops, and how the cost of living, combined with difficulties in reaching the buying market here, contributes to a lot of discouragement among the creative people who belong. She explained that while Santa Cruz has the fifth largest population of artists per capita in the United States, most have to work a second, full-time job to make ends meet. Even with an accommodating landlord and a prominent space near shops and a theatre, the gallery has difficulty keeping itself staffed. The gallery’s artist volunteers frequently have to cancel shifts to work at their ‘day jobs.’
I belong to Prince Edward County’s artist cooperative, Arts on Main Gallery. Our group works enthusiastically and persistently to keep the gloriously lit space on Picton Main Street flourishing with quality local fine art. Some of us do have second jobs, but most of us are full-time artists with open studios. We are very fortunate to be able to do what we do here in the County with its special geography and constant influx of vacationers, particularly in the summer season. Tourism definitely keeps us going, combined with lots of support from the locals and sponsors.
I am saddened that this is not how it is for the majority of artists at the Scotts Valley co-op. With the variety of artists in residence, and the exceptional and varied opportunities for tourism there, the Santa Cruz area really ought to be the Santa Fe of the West Coast!
Next week I hope to brainstorm over lunch with Dawn about what might be done to improve the situation and operation of this deserving gallery. And who knows, I may carry home with me some useful ideas for Arts on Main.
While O’Rourke’s friends may have been lackadaisical, most working artists are seriously passionate about their craft, and willing to make a huge effort toward success in their chosen profession. Next time you venture out to purchase a gift, why not check out your local artist cooperative? There you will find the unique and the interesting, and help support a living artist. Imagine a world without art and artists! Wouldn’t that be a dull life indeed?
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