Sometimes I minimize what I do too much with the “starving artist” phrase, but I do think that it’s a label that rings true for too many of us in this field. Arts programs in schools are at the mercy of budget cuts even in a good economy, so the problem is worse in these times. Adjunct faculty jobs are are limited in terms of compensation and benefits. Many residency programs are temporary and grant funding may not be secured until the very last minute, leaving many a teaching artist caught between accepting or turning down work for which the job security is next to none.
Those are some realities that those of us who have been working awhile face, but it may be even more daunting for the entry-level artist or arts professional. Newcomers to the field are encouraged to apply for internships with theatres where they will often receive a “stipend” far below a living wage (if anything) and no benefits for sometimes dubious “work experience.” That could work if you are independently wealthy or the chance to live at home (in a city with a significant theatre and strong internship program) but how is a 22 year old with new student loan bills supposed to eat and pay rent on $100 or less a week? Many of us who survived such experiences can be patronizing the entry-level arts professional, pointing out how we “paid our dues” and they ought to suck it up. But these practices promote an insustainable lifestyle that can only serve to drive the most responsible and qualified from the field.