Investing in People Who Create

By Anna Burns, Contributor

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Art isn’t easy. It doesn’t matter what our discipline is, if we want to create, it won’t be a simple task. It takes time, skill, and persistence. There are no shortcuts during this process. Frustration and self-doubt will visit like old friends, and it can take years before we’re satisfied with our own work. But don’t worry. The best things take time. Every sleepless night, every anxious moment, every Post-It - it’ll all be worth it. I promise. When we see others connect with our work, when we see ourselves in something truly incredible, something that we made - there’ll be no mistake that we’re on the right path.

However, it can take a long time to finish a piece, and it can take a lot out of us. It’s important that we take care of ourselves by investing in our well-being. We shouldn’t worry about whether we’re working “hard enough” or “fast enough.” We aren’t machines or assembly lines - we’re humans. Our value doesn’t depend on our capacity to generate.

It’s difficult to remember this sometimes. When we introduce ourselves to new people, we often discuss what we do for a paycheck. We don’t talk about the things that inspire, frighten, or motivate us. But remember: We’ve been taught this is how it should be. We live in a society that prioritizes speed and quantity and efficiency - it’s all very mechanical. Those who don’t adhere to set standards are left at the wayside, and unfortunately, creative people often fall through the cracks. The annual median pay for artists, as reported by The Bureau of Labor Statistics, is $48,960, with those in the lowest ten percent making $22,020 or less. It seems that, as a group, artists struggle to receive financial support that is proportional to their efforts. Why does this happen? Due to advertising and consumer culture, we’ve developed a tendency to purchase art from corporations rather than individuals in our community.

Accordingly, we have a very troubling expectation of art: We want it to feed us. That is, we try to consume it as if it’s any other commodity as if it’s something simple we can purchase in a convenience store or a drive-thru. Of course, this isn’t the case. Creatives invest massive amounts of time, energy, and money into their work. My sister Victoria is a multimedia artist. Certain pieces in her oeuvre required over 100 hours to create, and in terms of finance, they’re not cheap to produce. To estimate conservatively, a single canvas costs about $20, and paint might be $15 per color. This isn’t limited to the visual realm. From writers to musicians to actors, financial circumstances affect artists of every discipline. Therefore, if we want to “consume” works that aren’t constructed in factories, we should respect the processes that created them. We must invest in our neighbors as we would ourselves.

Luckily, Lynchburg makes this easy for us to do. Riverviews Artspace, among other organizations, focuses on benefitting local creatives. For example, Riverviews’ Emerging Artist Series offers a platform for up-and-coming visual artists, many of which are native to the Lynchburg area. This program allows these individuals to showcase their work in a professional setting while expanding their CV. It also gives them a chance to receive financial support, for they keep seventy percent of the profit for any works sold. When we attend exhibitions like these and purchase art from Riverviews, we become an instrumental force in supporting our friends in the visual arts. Yet Lynchburg provides opportunities to support performing artists as well; Speakertree, the Glass House, and Fifth and Federal often host local musicians. And with respect to the literary arts, the Listening, Inc. and Riverviews’ BeatBurg Program create outlets for poets in the Lynchburg community. Essentially, our city is filled with hardworking, artistic people, and there are numerous ways for us to invest in each other.