When I tell people about Smartly — my business where I’ve created tools and strategies to help artists with their money — I often get a strange look: confusion, mixed with pity, sprinkled with a little good luck with that, tied up in a thin, how interesting! Apparently, there are a lot of people who think helping artists with their money is a lost cause. It’s most obvious from people outside the art world, but I also see it flicker on the faces of artists themselves. It’s not everyone, but I would say a good percentage of the people I introduce myself to, have an instant and obvious reaction to my business: why waste your time?
It’s a question I once asked myself too. I’ve spent 10 years learning personal finance, but I have no interest in going the traditional route of helping high net worth individuals make more money from their already abundant assets. In fact, starting Smartly would have never crossed my mind had I not seen the huge gaping hole in my education where a fundamental understanding of how money works should have been.
My first indication that there was something wrong was during grad school when I was getting my MFA. I had made it a regular practice to ask all my professors and advisors, “How do you make this work… financially?” The answers I collected were small and confusing, most of them involving landing a steady teaching job, or having the foresight to buy a studio space 20 years ago. I talked to my classmates about what they were going to do after graduation, and the regular response was a wait-and-see approach. When I heard that one of my professors, a rising star in the Bay Area art scene, was considering applying for work at a local grocery store to make ends meet — I knew it wasn’t going to be easy.
In my arts community, money has always seemed like the biggest elephant in the room — something no one talked about, but we were all effected by. So early on I made it my mission to figure out how artists today could realistically build a secure financial life. It had to be possible — right? Here’s what I wanted to know:
How to weather through the uncertainty of opportunities.
Navigating a less-than-obvious career path.
Developing productive, not punishing, frugality strategies.
Surviving on a fluctuating income while still constructively saving for the future.
I knew I would need these tools to put myself and my art practice on solid footing. And what I found was that we are all making it up as we go. Finding examples to follow is difficult, because everyone is so tight-lipped about what’s really happening behind the curtain. You occasionally hear of someone selling out a solo show, or winning a grant and having their money troubles magically go away — but of course this is not the norm. I believe that staying informationally isolated has hurt the creative community. So it’s been my mission to deliberately study these thorny topics — and process of sharing what I’ve learned has become Smartly.
But there was a moment when it almost didn’t happen… When I was turning Smartly from an idea into a real thing, I mentioned it to trusted advisor. This is someone I have unending respect for, who’s living the ‘art life’ I aspired to. His reaction was, “Really… are you sure that’s what you want to do… Do you really want to spend all that time to become a… financial advisor?” as if it were a completely unnecessary and ridiculous waste of time… And I immediately felt totally ashamed for thinking anyone needed my help.
It stopped me in my tracks, and I spent a long time just quietly using my financial strategies to shore up my own art practice, assuming no one else wanted to hear about it. But as time marched forward I saw more of my friends leaving their art practices tucked neatly into closets or garages, migrating to jobs that didn’t fulfill them, because they hadn’t figured out a way to balance their art with the need to make ends meet.
And everntually, I couldn’t keep it in any longer. Even though I worried that no one cared, I started a blog about art and money, and began to write. My third post, The #1 Reason Artists Struggle With Money, describing the pitfalls of a fluctuation income, was met with an overwhelming and humbling response from other artists in public and private comments. These were real people, also weighed down with the difficulty of surviving in our field — grateful for an open discussion about how to smoothing things out.
And that’s when I decided my job going forward would be to help my community of creative weirdos, outsiders, dreamers, and geniuses get a handle on their money, develop the systems they need to create real assets, and make plans for financial stability — so that they can continue being the people they are, doing the important work of weaving our collective cultural fabric.
With that mission in mind, I am so I’m excited to share that we’ve opened up Early Bird registration for Money Bootcamp for Artists and Creatives. This course is the essence of Smartly, and the flag-ship program which I co-teach with Mati McDonough, an artists who is as savvy in architecting her creative business, as she is talented as a maker. In it, we’ll go from start to finish in crafting custom, comprehensive, productive financial plans specifically for artists.
If you are interested in taking charge of your finances to secure your life and your creative practice for the long term, early bird registration is now open at a $200 discount off the full price. And for the first 5 people in my community who sign-up — I’ll throw in a bonus, 1-hour, private call with me to focus specifically on tackling the issues you struggle with the most.
For the artists who have already gone through our class, it has been a fork in the road financially, veering away from paycheck-to-paycheck living, towards dumping their debt, creating stability, and building real assets. Class starts on October 31, with live online meet-ups on Wednesdays for 7 weeks. I hope you’ll join us!
If you have any questions, send me an email directly at [email protected] — I’d love to hear from you!