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Making Art Work: Views from artists

November 12, 2017

Making Art Work: An Economic Study of Professional Artists in Australia tracks trends in the lives and working conditions of Australian artists over 30 years and identifies challenges and opportunities for artists’ careers into the future. Selected professional artists share some of their experiences.

Click here to visit the Making Art Work homepage.

Abdul-Rahman Abdullah, Visual Arts

One of the most challenging aspects of pursuing a fulltime career in contemporary art is the continuous pursuit of different income streams necessary to sustain a visual art practice. Everyone’s needs and capacities are so different and it’s a constantly shifting landscape that we’re working within. For me, it’s important to recognise the different areas within the cultural industries where my specific skills and experiences can be applied outside of the studio and gallery environment. 

About Abdul-Rahman Abdullah

Guy Ben-Ary, Experimental Arts

My research explores a number of fundamental themes that underpin the intersection of art and science; namely life and death and cybernetics. I consciously approach processes capable of transforming bodies or living biological material from artistic, philosophical and ethical perspectives, and I make use of new scientific and cybernetic technologies to create artworks that re-evaluate understandings of life and the human body.  I use bio-technologies in a subversive way, attempting to problematize them by putting forward absurd and futuristic scenarios.

About Guy Ben-Ary

Courtney Collins, Literature

Storytelling is the great frontier. Old models based on three-act structures and the ‘Hero’s Journey’ are no longer an adequate response to the complexity of living. Different approaches are emerging and one of them, one that has enormous personal appeal for me, is based on truth of character. From experience, if I can discover the truth of a character, all good things can come from that – the book deal, the film option, the audience. What is more difficult to quantify is the inner reward that kind of storytelling gives to the storyteller. And that is the thing that sustains you to keep going, to discover more.

About Courtney Collins

Honor Eastly, Multi-arts

Learning how to make the art + money equation work has been one of the biggest challenges of my life, let alone my creative career. It’s why I finally took all my blood, sweat, and worry, and turned it into the Starving Artist podcast. For many artists making money creatively is either a mystery, or hidden behind a big banner reading “SELL OUT!”. I wanted to change that. What I found is that artists make it work in many different ways, but one of the most helpful things for sustaining a creative career is to have radically honest conversations about this delicate topic.

About Honor Eastly

Future D. Fidel, Performing arts

As an emerging artist, the aim is always to be as flexible as possible if you want to be noticed. That means working 10 times harder if you want a theatre company to consider you over a well established artist. And while you’re doing that, there are still a hundred of other responsibilities you need to take care of. At the end of the day, you gotta eat. But you can’t eat from being commissioned once or twice a year. Now, you have to find a part time job to pay your bills and while you’re focusing on that job, you’re losing the next chance of being noticed. So, you can sometimes find it hard to balance  your creativity or generating the next idea that would wow an artistic director with the needs to sustain your daily life.

About Future D. Fidel

Emma J. Hawkins, Performing arts

I am proud that I’ve been able to make a professional living in this industry for over 15 years, mostly working in the independent and small companies.  I have had to think outside the square to continue working, as it has been difficult to continually fight stereotypes and even get a foot in the door with mainstream auditions. Diversity is now being included in many conversations and I’m looking forward to see how that will impact the industry in the short and long-term futures.

About Emma J Hawkins

Melissa Lucashenko, Literature

Growing up poor I was obsessed with Aesop’s fox who chose to live hungry but free. Over twenty years I’ve done Uber driving, bar work, blue collar jobs of all sorts, to sustain my writing. In 2008 a friend challenged – ‘no guts, no glory’ – and I went freelance in the midst of the GFC. After six novels, two Australia Council grants and a CAL Fellowship, I’ve now earned slightly more than I would have on the dole. Is the “dream of wearing shorts forever” worth it? Bloody oath! Baked beans, anyone?

About Melissa Lucashenko

Steve Mayer-Miller, Community Arts and Cultural Development

Advances in technology has given artists opportunities to communicate to a much wider audience, yet it has made it even more imperative that we take the time to make that cup of tea and sit down with people to listen to their stories.

About Steve Mayer-Miller

Ross McHenry, Music

It is a challenge to sustain a creative practice in music and also earn a living to provide for a family. I have not yet found any kind of balance in this space. Creatively I am committed to only pursuing the type of musical practice that is important and fulfilling to me, but this has meant that for most of my career it has been necessary to have another income to cover the cost of living in arts administration. This juggling act places enormous and frustrating time constraints on my creative practice. Finding the time to be an artist, when the cost of living continues to rise is very hard.

About Ross McHenry

Rita Pryce, Dance

Being innovative in my artistic practice whilst maintaining the integrity of my peoples’ ancient cultures, is challenging but keeps me grounded. Representing my mob in the most honest and valuable way possible is important to me. So to have the support of my elders and community with what I am doing, is a real privilege and I am more than grateful. For without this, I have nothing. Because of their generosity, I am able to share my experiences with audiences from around the world.

About Rita Pryce

Michelle St. Anne, Theatre

The challenge and opportunity for me and my art, has always been finding a place to call home. Is it theatre? Is it academic knowledge translation? Is it art? Categories and labels are so important in this industry. Traversing multiple art forms leaves you homeless but sometimes it can open extraordinary doors. 

About Michelle St.Anne

Jon Rose, Music

I made a pretty decent living as a full-time musician. I don’t think you can do this starting out today. I lived overseas for some time, and I came back to Australia to work not just on my music but other projects. Even if I wanted to, I don’t think I’d be able to earn a living solely from my music now. Music was the first field to be hollowed out, but now it’s happening everywhere.

About Jon Rose

About the artists

Abdul-Rahman Abdullah‘s practice explores the different ways that memory can inhabit and emerge from familial space. Working primarily in sculpture and installation, Abdullah’s own experiences as a Muslim Australian of mixed cultural heritage provide a starting point for his celebrated work.

Guy Ben-Ary is a Perth based artist and researcher. Recognised internationally as a major artist and innovator in science and media arts, Guy specialises in biotechnological artwork, which aims to enrich our understanding of what it means to be alive. He currently works at SymbioticA, an artistic laboratory at the University of Western Australia.

Courtney Collins is a novelist and screenwriter. Her first novel, The Burial, was shortlisted for numerous literary prizes in Australia and overseas and is currently being developed as a feature film. Her second novel, The Walkman Mix, will be published in 2018. For the past two and a half years, Courtney has been living in South East Arnhem Land researching a series for television.

Honor Eastly is an artist, podcaster and professional feeler of feelings. Her work explores human distress, relationships, sex, psychology and the meaning of it all. Recently Eastly’s work has been shown at Melbourne Now, The National Gallery of Victoria, The Gallery of NSW, the Perth Institute of Contemporary Art, and at the Melbourne International Comedy Festival. Eastly is the creator of the Starving Artist podcast which debuted at #1 on iTunes Arts and #10 on iTunes Australia overall.

Future D. Fidel is a Queensland based artist born in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Fidel’s practice includes African modern dance, music and theatre. His debut play Prize Fighter was co-produced with La Boite Theatre Company and featured in the Brisbane Festival to great acclaim.

Emma J. Hawkins is an actress, dancer, singer and circus performer. Standing at just over a metre she is definitely one of a kind. She has worked with many professional companies as an actress, including Sydney Theatre Company, Arena and Windmill Theatre Company.

Melissa Lucashenko is an award-winning novelist of Goorie and European heritage. Melissa’s most recent novel, Mullumbimby, was awarded the 2013 Queensland Literary Award for Fiction, won the 2014 Victorian Premiers Prize for Indigenous Writing, and was longlisted for both the Stella Prize and Miles Franklin Award.

Steve Mayer-Miller is the Artistic Director/CEO of Crossroad Arts Mackay and has spent 35 years in community arts and cultural development. He has developed more than 40 new works with the Indigenous communities, seniors and people living with disability and has collaborated with marginalised groups throughout Australia and the Asia Pacific Region.

Ross McHenry is an award winning composer, bass player and record producer based in Adelaide. Ross’ work reflects the unique and changing cultural landscape of Australian creative music and he has performed extensively around Australia and at leading international arts festivals.

Rita Pryce is a Kulkalgal and Kawrareg woman from Torres Strait Islands. Winner of the British Council’s Accelerate Leadership award and a ‘Most Potential to Scale’ award at an Innovation Business Startup, she is also founding director of Baiwa Dance Company and Pryce Centre for Culture and Arts in Cairns.

For over 40 years Australian violinist, improviser, composer, inventor, and writer, Jon Rose has been at the sharp end of experimental, new and improvised music on the global stage. He has appeared on more than 100 albums, radiophonic and media works, collaborating with many mavericks of new music.

Michelle St Anne is the Artistic Director, Animateur and founder of The Living Room Theatre. She has produced over 18 ambitious productions which have been performed in various venues in Sydney and Melbourne, and in her spare time she’s Deputy Director of the Sydney Environment Institute.