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The arts is always admired for its creative abilities, and not the wages. While this may be true for many, there are ways to make a decent living while loving what you do.


1. Teach a class and share your knowledge

Whatever your specialty, whether it’s photography, painting or something avant-garde, there’s always interest for others to develop their skills and that means sharing what you know. Find your specialty and what you really excel at (and we mean really excel, not just something you’re kind of good at) and approach a known arts organisation to host your class.

Not only is this a great way to get some extra cash (keeping in mind the organisation/business hosting the class will take a cut) it’s a means to expose your work to a broader audience, and it may even mean follow-up one-on-one workshops or a commissioned piece itself. Arts supply stores often host their own workshops, so these businesses are great places to start if you’re looking for somewhere to host your workshop.

If you’re really gutsy, put on your own workshop and reduce some of the cash flow you may loose to things like ticketing sites, the host venue and supplies. Alternatively, if you’ve got some wisdom to impart, look at becoming a ‘speaker for hire’; talking about your art in various panels, events or forums. This can be a simple means to get some bulk cash flow coming in, and be sure to include travel fees in your price. Photographer Ken Gonzales-Day mentioned in an interview to Forbes magazines that he makes a considerable amount of his wage through such opportunities.

“I make about 25-30% of my income from other sources such as speaking gigs, public art commissions and publishing. None of these generates a huge amount of money, but it all adds up,” Gonzales-Day said.


2. Look to big businesses

Depending on what your chosen artistic medium is, there are opportunities (particularly in the music industry) to approach large-scale Australian businesses in writing “jingles” for ads or on selling a design to them. It may be seen as being a “sellout”, but if you’re serious about getting a bigger income, this is one of the biggest ways to do it. Remember; leave your ego aside as there will be many changes in what is a significantly less creative process than what you’d be used to. But the cash is more than worth it for funding the parts of art that you really love.


3. Get on every platform

As an artist, relying solely on art sales from your exhibition is hardly enough to pay the bills (unless you’re Ai Weiwei that is). Instead, creating prints and works (or whatever it is you do) and getting them online, in cafes and in shops increases your chances of having work purchased. Don’t just settle for one art-selling opportunity; get on them all. Whether it’s Etsy, Blue Thumb, Society 6 and ArtWeb, each is an extra chance for revenue. Though it’s worth keeping in mind, with each new site listing, it’s time to manage it.


4. Apply for grants

The holy grail of artist income undoubtedly comes from grants, but with a grant application comes a lot of work. Invest in guidance and help early on, so you can make the most of your grant application writing and optimise your chances of winning. A couple hundred dollars spent on a grant application counsellor makes all the difference when you’re looking at receiving a grant of $5,000 or more. If you’ve got a peer who has this skill – even better.

Creative Victoria often gives out several grants per year, and there are many other grants and awards that offer cash incentives and prizes. Be proud of your work and enter it in every relevant opportunity you see – there’s only one way to grow after all.


5. Understand the industry, make contacts

Some of the biggest names in the arts industry have found their footing thanks to the contacts they made in their early days. Whether that means volunteering your time around an exhibition or interning for a period, while these moments don’t get you any money in a sense, they help build the connections that will. Find your local gallery or arts institution and see if there are any opportunities for mentorship, work experience or the like.

Secondly, while at art events, network like there’s no tomorrow. These connections are worth their weight in gold, and many collaborations, future commissions and work opportunities can be sought from these moments. Don’t waste them.

While art is a tricky business in making a serious income, there’s nothing wrong with having a day-job to feed the love of creating. There are even opportunities like graphic design, illustrators for publishing houses and full-time teaching opportunities at educational institutes (bear in mind there will be requirements to teach) that can meld the need for earning a living and creating as a passion.