In December 2022, I composed a brief, non-scientific survey to gain some data on American artists: who was working, who had left the field; who was making their primary living from the arts, who was gigging in different fields. My sincere thanks to those who took the time to complete the survey. (And big thanks to those who alerted me to confusing language and missing/misnamed demographic categories.)
I was curious to dig into artistic identity: whether being an artist was a bit of personal or professional identity, and whether one’s income or employment changed the way they self-identified.
141 people responded to my questions. Of those surveyed, 95.7% consider themselves artists, and listed disciplines from vocalist and instrumentalist to theatrical designers and culinary artists.
And when making introductions, 75.2% of respondents lead with their artistic discipline. When asked whether they felt “artist” was a personal or professional descriptor, 69.5% said that the term applied simultaneously to both.
46.1% of respondents are working simultaneously in an artistic and non-artistic field.
Prior to 2020, 68.8% of those surveyed made their primary income through their artistic discipline; that number fell 14 points to 54.6% at the end of 2022. But 84.4% of respondents are currently professionally involved in some way in their primary artistic discipline.
In asking how recent world events affected their professional identity, 23.7% of respondents replied that the events of the last few years affected them profoundly. (1= minimally: 10= profoundly)
Next up: some stats on those folks who left the field over the last few years, their reasons for doing so, and how they’re feeling about their decisions.
It’s been a while since I’ve written here, but I have a good reason to resurrect this little corner of the internet! I’m working on a project about artists and professional identity, and the ways in which we think about ourselves might’ve changed over the last few (eventful) years.
The survey is here and takes about 5 minutes to complete. If you’ve studied an artistic discipline or worked professionally in an artistic discipline (and have 5 minutes during the busy holidays) I’d be grateful for your answers! (It’s also an easy way to distract yourself for a few minutes while you’re waiting in line.)
The survey is anonymous, but of course if you’re willing to begin a conversation there’s a way for us to be in touch. And if you’d direct people to the survey I’d be grateful – I’m trying to get a broad range of data.
Thanks for considering it. Warm wishes for the chilly season!
I’ve been out of the office for the last two weeks, trying desperately to regrow two braincells to rub together and make some kind of intellectual spark. (Spoiler: wasn’t successful in growing much aside from hair and girth, but frankly any type of growth is welcome at this point.)
Yesterday, I parked the car at the base of the ‘mountain’ (don’t come for me, oh you who ski out west! I know any ‘mountain’ in the eastern US doesn’t reeeeally count) at the local ski resort, tightened the laces on my shoes, and searched the map for the easiest path to the top. The goal: up and back, without injuring myself/having to call my husband or a neighbor for a rescue.
It was a beautiful morning, with blue skies and high, fluffy clouds. And, a few minutes into the walk, I realized that I had, in fact, hiked this trail before! I remembered the angle of incline (and tbh cursed a little bit when the steepness actually materialized) and roughly where I’d end up at the top of the mountain.
As I walked up, and then down (which unsurprisingly was way easier but not without challenges!), I thought “holy crap – this hike is a freakin metaphor for the last two summers!”
Hear me out. (And arts administrator friends, weigh in as to whether this resonates with your experience.)
I knew the path. Knew how to get to the end result, how to get up the steep parts of the climb and roughly how long they’d last. I knew it was a hike of 45-75 minutes, not an all-day affair.
But in the years since I last hiked this path? The terrain had changed. There were new offshoots, and I wasn’t sure where they’d go. There had been clearcuts and regrowth. And it was largely unrecognizable.
And the path itself required my full attention. This wasn’t a well-maintained gravel path -the better term I’ll borrow from my husband’s mountain-biking lingo – it was a rock garden. Tactical, changeable, and totally maneuverable if I was focused…but also 100% able to twist an ankle or knee past usability.
But I made it to the top! Enjoyed the view for a bit, and then headed back down…which should’ve been a piece of cake…but.
the rocks are treacherous in a different way on descent:
oh hey hamstrings…how you doin?
was struggling enough with the grade on the way up to completely miss all the black bear scat on the trail… yikes!
The way down should’ve been a piece of cake, but required just as much attention, focus and thoughtfulness as the ascent.
Last summer we were making things up as we went along. We had a strong desire to make good on our mission, to support and cultivate artists during the crisis of 2020, and we did.
This summer was supposed to be easier: shows! Rehearsal periods! Live audiences! We know how to do that – we’ve done it before! The path was familiar and, honestly, welcome. But the loose rocks on that path were the necessary focus on public health. The steep grade – and my own difficulty navigating it – due to being out of shape and out of practice with dealing with the demands of producing, let alone in a pandemic.
(And you’ll forgive me if I draw similarities between the unseen and potentially dangerous nature of both a mama black bear and an invisible deadly virus.)
Don’t get me wrong: it was nothing less than a privilege to be able to make opera for two summers during a pandemic! The support we had – from the Foundation, the Opera team, as well as the Production, Development and Marketing teams – bore the weight of the most thoughtful, considered gift. I’ve struggled to find words to encapsulate the last two summers, but this experience connected several threads for me. If any of this resonates with you, I’d be glad to hear about your experiences in the comments.
(And if you’re willing to share your story of transformation over the pandemic, you can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org for information about my interview project.)
Merriam Webster has the following (and more) entries for the word REFLECTION:
1: an instance of reflectingespecially: the return of light or sound waves from a surface
2: the production of an image by or as if by a mirror
3a: the action of bending or folding back b: a reflected part : FOLD
4: something produced by reflecting: such as a: an image given back by a reflecting surface b: an effect produced by an influencethe high crime rate is a reflection of our violent society
5: an often obscure or indirect criticism : REPROACH a reflection on his character
6: a thought, idea, or opinion formed or a remark made as a result of meditation
7: consideration of some subject matter, idea, or purpose
I’m quite literally gazing at the reflection of the trees on the water, here at the end of this “long weekend” associated with Labor Day. Usually at this point in the year, I feel wrung out; 3+months of long days, epic performances, and a lot of professional extroverting will do that. And this also is the time when audition applications are pouring in and we’re screening hundreds of packets of paperwork and videos to see who we’ll make time to hear on our fall audition tour.
This year is markedly different.
There will be no audition tour.
The season was only Opera, featured no live performances, and was a mere six weeks long. Piece of cake, right? Well, not really.
The stresses resulted from trying to safely gather and make collaborative art during a pandemic. And we did! We had 40+ artists join us in Virginia. We fielded almost 800 hours of vocal coachings and language coachings and staging rehearsals and colleague auditions, and captured livestreamed performances and masterclasses.
And we did it without anyone getting sick. (HALLELU!)
But it came with a cost. The plans we made were extensive, and constantly changing to adapt to the most recent health department data. My workplace was able to generously support our program – while the cost was a fraction of our usual operation, it still was a significant amount of capital – but my staff was furloughed after the artists went home. And the stress of the last months? Well, let’s say that it puts the highest “stress” moments of my career thus far in the kiddie pool…this was some deep water we navigated this summer.
When I was in college, I dreamed of running my own opera company: this position has in many ways been a dream come true… however, I didn’t really think that my first true season would look anything like this one. (Careful what you wish for?) I’m so proud of what we accomplished, for it was truly a collaborative effort. At the same time, I’m mourning the art that wasn’t created, the creators and artists who have been silenced through stress, poverty, bigotry and racism, lack of opportunity, and this raging pandemic.
But I’m also thinking about the work I have to do on myself: now is the time to start digging into ways to create new helpful habits, to become a better leader and manager, to become more consistent in my art and exercise practices. (If anyone else needs an accountability buddy, or has a resource that has been effective in your life? Drop me a line in the comments!)
Tomorrow is back to work, even if the work looks and feels very different. I hope, wherever and whatever you’re doing tomorrow, that it feeds your soul and your bank account in equal measure.
I’ve been playing with a new microphone, and doing a lot of reading and thinking (read: navel-gazing). This past week was a tough one for singery folk, and I had some thoughts, but wanted to share them in a new way.
Hoping today is a good day for each of you, friends.
My family moved every 4 years or so when I was a kid. We’d move into a new house, and spend years fixing it up over summer break and winter holiday. (I say “we” inclusively – my Dad was super handy, and my mother has always had a strong eye for design and a sense of adventure in color and pattern. My brother and I tried to stay out of the way/not step on loose nails or splinters, with varying degrees of success.) Many of the moves were within our school district; both Mom and Dad were teachers, and they understood the importance and impact of a school community.
We made one big move, when I was a high-school freshman, from the tiny valley community we lived in, in the nook of the Chemung and Susquehanna Rivers; to a western Pennsylvania college town north of Pittsburgh. We moved on April 1, 1988; when my pals tried to convince me that it was an April Fool’s joke, I flatly responded that everything my family owned was in boxes; we were going somewhere I was sure.
There was a specific phenomenon that happened with regularity around each move. Once it became public knowledge that we were moving – out of the neighborhood, out of the school district, out of the area – there was always someone who stepped forward, stepped into my life in a different way. It was a different person in each instance, and to my great embarrassment I’ve lost some of their names. But what I can remember is this:
They were not close friends prior to the move, nor was the friendship a defining point of my life post-move. It was largely a transitional, time-limited phenomenon.
They were quietly kind, allowing me to talk when I needed to, but as happy to distract or entertain.
They were present; phone calls (occasionally…this was not the era of multiple phone lines or cell phones), walks around the neighborhood, letters.
The extension of this person’s time and attention, this gift, almost always happened on the leaving edge, rather than the receiving edge. Once I arrived at the new school/neighborhood, I was more actively trying to figure out the social dynamics, as well as the new ‘me’ that I planned to be therein. But pre-move, when time was finite yet strangely elastic? That was the time that these small, potent friendships blossomed. I’m not sure that the person wasn’t still there or available to me post-move, or that I wasn’t interested in that relationship, but I might guess that we were both better served by each other in that limbo, and that when time righted itself we didn’t need each other quite so much.
I’m finding parallels to this process in our current, Covidian world. In this new stillness, this new contemplative state that we’ve been forced into, I have found several people quietly stepping into frame…to share something silly, to offer congratulations and condolences, to offer their time and attention as I stammer through something I find difficult to verbalize.
It has been a joy.
I’m grateful for these unforced, spontaneous, caring conversations which have happened by post and social media and Zoom and FaceTime. I’m grateful for these unknowing guides, and their help through this transitory state…and I’m happy to return this favor.
I’m finding myself wanting to write, to process what’s happening in the world through words. And, being completely honest, talking about career changes at the current moment feels a little tone deaf when so many are unable to work at all. But I am missing our community, as it once was…and though I’m an introvert, I’m still craving connection.
(Tangent: I listened to this podcast, and one point was the difference between solitude and loneliness. We’re lucky in English to have two words for these related but different feelings: the author’s latest novel, The Art of Solitude, is being translated into German, where the word Einsamkeit encompasses both concepts. The reworked German title is Die Kunst mit zie selbst allein zu sein. The Art of Being Alone With Oneself. I love that.)
So I’m going to try to publish a few little pieces here, about the struggles I’m feeling and the unexpected bright lights. I’m reading like crazy – about habit-building (my favorite topic, though one that has grown quite rusty over the last 18 months), about the attention economy, and the political attributes of rest, so there’ll likely be some of that thrown in, too.
If you are reading something that has a new context in these Covidian times, please point it out. Looking forward to reconnecting with you.
Well, it’s been quite a long time since I’ve written here! I won’t make excuses for my absence except to say that life has happened, and my writing took a backseat.
But that won’t be for much longer.
I’ve had a number of conversations over the last few weeks about the state of the operatic field. How do we prepare singers to enter the field? How do we define a successful career? How do we support singers as they transition from performing into other fields?
I’m afraid that there still is a lot of shame around leaving the stage; I need both hands to count the number of conversations I’ve had under the aegis of secrecy with singers who are considering leaving the field but are not sure how, or whether it’s the right time, and are paralyzed by the double whammy of losing a professional identity AND having to forge a new one almost immediately.
If you are a singer/performer? Let me peer into my crystal ball and tell your future:
You’re going to be FINE.
In fact, you’re going to be able to find a career path that allows you to have those things that you’re not getting from singing, and that allows you the very same activities/feelings that singing feeds for you.
In this space in the coming months I’ll be sharing stories of folks who began their college studies as singers, actors, dancers, and now have fulfilling careers offstage. Some had capital-C careers, some made the switch while studying. Some are still performing as their desires and schedules allow, some have found new creative outlets: all of them credit their training and performance education in helping them find their path into a gratifying career.
As a bit of a review, please click over here to read some past profiles. (Caveat: some of these folks have moved tracks yet again and are doing new and awesome things. I’ll round up some updates for you in a few months.)
And as always, if you are game to be profiled, or know someone who has an interesting or helpful story to share, you can email me at email@example.com
Y’all. I’ve missed you! Our summer season has been amazingly rewarding, but has also been incredibly dense with performances, events, and wonderful people.
As it winds down, however, I find that I’ve missed this space, and the opportunity to talk about career shifts and renewed purpose, and searching for that elusive thing – meaningful work. So I’m happily diving back into the fray.
If you started your collegiate education in the fine or performing arts and have transitioned into another field, I’d love to talk to you. (And if you know someone who has an interesting story, please pass this link on!)
If you have questions about making the switch, let me know – I’ll investigate!
In the meantime, here’s a great profile from careershifters.org about Lori Richmond, who made the transition from web design back to her fine-art roots, and is now a sought-after children’s book author and illustrator.
I’m planning to circle back to some of our archived conversations, and catch up with their new pathways, and to offer some resources for exploration.