NPR recently reported that two thirds of American artists are out of work. Theaters are closed, art exhibits are curtained off, and concerts are cancelled. There is no stand-up comedy happening; no music playing in dive-bars behind sticky tip jars; no weddings to photograph or sing at; and no shows to direct, perform, costume or light.
Until we get this coronavirus under control, actors, singers, writers, filmmakers, editors, painters, photographers, musicians, dancers, sculptors, comedians, and creatives of every discipline are looking at an empty calendar.
On top of losing those gigs, many artists are finding themselves even without their “survival job.” With restaurants moving to takeout only and facing an uncertain future, and hospitality essentially paralyzed, hundreds of thousands of Americans with high-level skills and training in very specific niches are at a loss for what to do once the $1,200 stimulus check runs out.
This comes with a lot of grief. I’m an opera singer, and like hundreds of my colleagues, my summer season is gone, and the companies that hired us are under no obligation to pay anything. It’s tragic. It’s cruel. It’s time to think outside of the box.
If you are an artist in America, it might be time to think about making a pivot. Whether temporary or long-term, the peace of mind (and financial stability) that comes with going full-steam into a new sector might be worth the investment, especially if the one thing currently guaranteed to us is time. If you are an artist, and have found yourself at a crossroads, here are some ideas to kickstart your professional reinvention.
This might seem like a radical jump, but one trait that nearly every creative has is the ability to see a problem and solve it in an unexpected way. Whether this is with physical finesse or a change in dynamics or a shift in color and tone, artists are no stranger to approaching a given set of circumstances and finding something new.
This innovation can be translated into a skill that is highly bankable. The Bureau of Labor Statistics puts the median annual salary of a computer programmer at just north of $85,000. While software programming jobs are not immune to the economic downturn, you could do worse (like sing opera, just for instance). Coding courses and bootcamps are available from universities and education sites at varying levels of investment.
Masters and certificate programs
If there’s a degree or certification you’ve been thinking about, now is the time. Most educational institutions have transitioned online, so you can get your master’s degree without moving.
The ancillary benefit, apart from continued training, is that most community colleges will hire adjunct faculty with a master’s degree and experience, and most of those institutions have rolling hiring for general education courses in the humanities. If you decide to transition into public education, having a master’s degree puts you significantly higher on the pay scale, even as a first-year teacher. Many school districts will hire teachers who don’t have a teaching certification if they are working on it concurrently, while teaching in the district.
Marketing and social media management
One of the key pieces of a successful career in the arts is brand management. Every artist is their own business, and more often than not, employment in the arts comes out of networking and community engagement. Platforms like Instagram, Twitter, YouTube, Wix, and Squarespace are the natural habitats of creative folk.
These digital skills shoot a direct line into marketing. If an artist can’t sell the content on their site, they can sell the skills it took to create that site with an integrated online presence on social platforms.
If this sounds like an attractive pivot, you can jump in at any level, from earning a associate’s degree to a master’s degree online. You can also look up marketing and social media jobs on Indeed, LinkedIn, and Glassdoor to see the education and experience they require.
Foreign language specialization and translating
Artists are intimately familiar with the power of words, and many American artists are used to collaborating in languages other than English. In a global economy, businesses are desperate for highly technical translations. Whether it’s a medical paper or a secure document, businesses and private citizens will pay top-dollar for a certified translation.
If you minored in French, spent a semester in Brazil, or have been Duolingo-ing your way through Mandarin, now is the time to lean in and get as fluent as you can. Whether it’s a translation certificate or an online degree, positioning yourself to offer translation services is a move that can benefit you indefinitely.
No one knows how long our society will require social distancing, and it is likely that concert venues, film studios, museums, galleries, and theaters will have to innovate in drastic ways over the next year. For those who have built a livelihood in the arts, this is a strange new world with limits never before experienced. Grief, frustration and anger are all valid responses to this career-altering pandemic.
But if there is one thing that has been the hallmark of American artists since the birth of this country, it is radical innovation. Our diversity is our biggest asset, and our ability to financially hustle has never been so crucial. If anyone can figure out how to draw beauty out of this tragedy and hold a mirror up to the world, it’ll be us.