What It Feels Like to be an Artist in NYC Right Now

A group of asians in white suits celebrating, same asian in a dark suit hiding his face in shame.
Glory of Shame

Surprisingly, last year was probably my best financial year to date. A combination of: qualifying for unemployment for the first time in my life, healthy art sales, some assisting work, and nowhere to go helped me build 3-4 months worth of savings. But this year all these streams of revenue have almost all dried up. I have been working, but even after we started to come back from lockdown, I’m doing about half the business I had during this time last year. If nothing happens, within 2 weeks I will be flat broke. As I always say, hoping that I’ll get lucky is a horrendous strategy. But I’m not freaking out just yet.

I’ve been in this position before. As recently as 4th of July, I was standing on the precipice of financial oblivion. I was trying to get my passport renewed so I could go on vacation to Mexico to see my crewmates (a vacation I had already paid for months before mind you). I was stressed out, suffering quietly, and daydreaming of different methods of suicide (ultimately deciding I’m a diamond! I will never succumb to the pressure). 

Then I had a breakthrough. I felt like my luck started changing when I finally got an appointment for my passport renewal. Work also started pouring in, and I made enough money in two weeks to cover the whole month. This helped postpone my problems till present day.

Work has been slow overall this year, but by the beginning of May, NYC looked like it was opening back up. I had a crazy busy week of gigs and things looked like they would return to normal soon. I went out and spent money to see friends, celebrate special occasions and went on dates. I was optimistic that the tide was turning, and business would be back.

But it wasn’t.

Instead, the cost of living increased while the money coming in has decreased. My 3 months worth of savings was eroding quickly. With the exception of July, I’ve had 0 months this year where I’ve received enough money to cover all my expenses. Hell, people still owe me invoices from June that are still left unpaid. It’s been really difficult to make art under these conditions.

This is what it feels like to be an artist right now. But even in the best of times, cashflow is volatile. I’ve tried my best to make responsible decisions: I save money every time I make money, I invest what I can, and I cut my vices. But all these good habits aren’t worth anything if I can’t get paid.

Success for me often feels like a lie.

Work can come pouring in, and by that same token it can also stop on a dime. Entire corporations will take months to pay me the few hundred dollars they owe. But in the words of the great American author Charles Bukowski “It’s the only good fight there is.” I can’t imagine doing anything else, and I’ve tried plenty of other things. 

I have plans to expand my Book Burning project (like making a small limited edition of books to sell) and to take my World of One to the next level (like some without photoshop). But I’ll need your help to get me there. To make these ideas come to fruition, I need at least two weeks worth of time to make this work unencumbered. To do that, I need about $3,600 to climb out of debt/pay my rent on time.

While I could apply for government money, or ask my friends and family directly. The reason why I’m reaching out to you, my dear audience. Is because I’ve become obsessed with this idea of art made for my community, funded by my community. I like to think of it as taking taxpayer money, but cutting out the middleman. Or directly funding my own grant/fellowship. Knowing that this money is coming from people who actually appreciate my work, is empowering. You could give me $1, but because it’s for this, it’ll feel like $1,000,000 bucks to me. Politicians ask for money to help them get reelected. Charities ask for money to help the vulnerable. I’m asking for money to make the world a slightly less ugly place.

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