Thursday, January 16, 2014

An Introduction to Crossover: How Artists Build Careers Across Commercial, Non-Profit and Community Work

Ann Markusen is a Professor/Director at the Hubert H Humphrey School of Public Affairs. When your read the about the projects she has been involved with as a researcher, you quickly recognize that she has had a lifelong interest in the arts. Examples include "California's Arts and Cultural Ecology", "Native Artists: Livelihoods, Resources, Space, Gifts", "Creative Placemaking", which dives into the melding of the arts into communities, and an off-shoot of this idea, 'Artistic Dividend: The Arts' Hidden Contributions to Regional Development'

This morning I wanted to draw attentiono to some idea from Crossover: How Artists Build Careers across Commercial Nonprofit and Community Work, a study she wrote with Sam Gilmore, Amanda Johnson, Titus Levi and Andrea Martinez.

Whenever I hear a speaker or read new ideas being presented, there is an inward listener holding a tuning fork that resonates or fails to resonate with what I read or hear. I believe all of us do this, either consciously or unconsciously. It's where the expression "that doesn't ring true to me." My inner tuning fork believes it's off key.

All that to say that when I began reading Crossover: How Artists Build Careers, it so thoroughly rang true with my experience of the arts community that I felt a need to draw to this work and encourage others to read it or re-visit it.

In order to write about artists and their careers, one must define the term, since we all have most likely dabbled in making art to some degree. This study defines an artist as any one who:
■ self-defines as an artist;
■ works as a writer, musician, visual or performing artist;
■ spends ten hours or more a week on his/her artwork whether or not for income, and;
■ shares his/her artwork beyond family and close friends.

This is one of the most concise definitions I've seen anywhere. They see themselves this way, and behave in a manner consistent with their self understanding. They demonstrate commitment and bring it out of the closet to the broader community.

What was interesting to me, and what the 2006 study demonstrated, was that artists' lives are usually split between three sectors; making art, participating in the commercial realm, and giving themselves to the community. The study shows how pervasive this is. Large numbers of artists split their time among all three sectors. 39% spend most of their time in commercial work and 69% spend at least some artwork time in the community sector.

As I listen to the discussions taking place at meetings of the Twin Ports Arts Align and other groups in our locale, recurring themes include concern for affordable housing, concern for people on the fringe. Perhaps this is do in part because most artists' lives intersect with the fringes more often than other occupations.

Much of the paper revolves around how artists get funded. Crossover notes that most artists would like to do even more for the community than they already are, but must hold down jobs in order to buy the time to commit to the work, which is more than just a passion. One artist i know had a deep commitment to helping the homeless here in Duluth but had to maintain three jobs to make ends meet herself, time she would have preferred devoting to the needy and to her photography.

The paper notes how artists frequently give back by donating their art for fund-raisers. Whether for autism research, cancer research or fund raising to alleviate the weight of excessive hospital debt, artists are among the first to rally round, donating their work in silent auctions, or for entertainment. When times are tough, the artists remain giving. Case in point, the annual Empty Bowl fund raiser at the Depot, helping to keep food shelves stocked here in the Northland.

Visit this site to learn more about the research and writings of Ann Markusen.

Meantime, art goes on all around you. Engage it.

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