Recession Gives New Meaning to "Starving Artists"

“Starving Artist,” is no longer a form of expression. It has now become an actualization. The art community has been hit especially hard by the economic downturn. Although some artists support themselves solely on the sales of their work, the majority merits their incomes from additional work, doing graphic design or teaching. But much of that employment has vanished as a result of the recession.

Austin Robbins, owner of Ceylon Studios, photo courtesy of Kristey Mascaro.
Austin Robbins, owner of Ceylon Studios, photo courtesy of Kristey Mascaro.

Austin Robbins, a 23-year-old photography business owner (Ceylon Studios) who grew up in Bloomsburg wasn’t convinced the location of a small town would produce enough profit to sustain his new business. “Main Street feels like it’s been dying off and I wanted to bring something back to the downtown area where people could just hang out and watch the interaction,” Robbins says.

His new location, Elizabethtown, Pa, is a college town similar to Bloomsburg. Although it doesn’t have as much foot traffic, the downtown shop owners hold monthly meetings with the agenda of improving the downtown area in hopes of trying to get people to interact more with their town and notice the local businesses. The primary goal of these meetings is to consider options to make positive influences and have a positive impact on the student life.

Though the effects of the recession have been particularly hard on artists, gallery owners and hopeful entrepreneurs, Robbins was determined to prevail in a time of economic dismay. Although his business seemed to pick up quickly, Robbins has recently discovered that many people would rather have a friend take their pictures, rather than spending the extra cost in a professional studio. The price of a SLR (single lens reflex) cameras has been dropping at an increasingly high rate, making it possible for most anyone to own one. “It’s risky in my opinion. Wedding pictures, senior pictures, they are things that only happen once in your life, and its an experience everyone should have. Pictures last forever. Memories are something you should always invest more in,” Robbins concluded.

The New York Foundation of the Arts recently conducted a statewide survey on how the recession is affecting artists and found that many have lost their jobs and are struggling to afford studio space and materials as well as covering their daily living expenses. To make matters worse, many artists have lost representation, as more galleries have tightened their belts or shut down altogether.

A satirical representation of the “struggling artist," photo courtesy of artillerymag.com.
A satirical representation of the “struggling artist,” photo courtesy of artillerymag.com.

Over the past year, several galleries have had to close including Bellwether Gallery, Cohan and Leslie, Rivington Arms and 31 Grand, while the Zach Feuer artists are applying for teaching positions, boosting job applications at art schools but not the number of positions available.

As galleries close and art nonprofits suffer from cutbacks in funding and the loss of support from private institutions, artists must look for new outlets and resources in order to sustain themselves. Many have discovered alternative options for showcasing their work and staying afloat financially.

While it is easy to focus on the negative, many artists are transforming their struggle into opportunity, proving tough times can also be a period of remarkable ingenuity. Funding Emerging Art with Sustainable Tactics (FEAST ), a reoccurring communal dinner in a church basement, is a means of democratically supporting emerging local artists. Open to the public, diners pay for their meal on a sliding scale and vote for one of the proposed artists projects, which is then funded by the proceeds from the dinner and presented at the next FEAST.

The economic downturn might not make profits any easier or sustainable for artists, but they continue to look ahead.

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