Health, Housing, and the American Artist
By Jessyca Holland
As we examine the role of artists in our community, we also must examine the career development resources available (or not available) to typical, working artists. I hope this an ongoing conversation. I want to preface by writing that I am aware that the following is complex. Once you layer in intersectionality and other issues around income disparity, you find many, many conversations yet to be had in the arts field. We need to have those conversations. We need to have them now.
I wrote a piece a while ago for SaportaReport that included information about artist’s wages. Why do artists earn less than their professional peers with the same education? Maybe it has something to do with how we see artists.
Christa Blatchford, CEO of the Joan Mitchell Foundation, still recognizes the findings of a 2003 Urban Institute report to be just as relevant today as they were when the report was first published:
“The report has a key finding that I return to again and again: In the national survey, 96 percent of Americans said they value art in their communities and lives, but only 27 percent said they value artists. It is that disconnect between the appreciation for the arts and understanding the role artists play that we are committed to bridging.”
Perhaps the sparse funding and career resources in Atlanta stem from how we see the role of artists within our community? The artists I know and work with at C4 Atlanta are hardworking individuals who often feel shut out from resources that would help propel their careers. One benefit that is typically coupled to salaried employment is health insurance. Like many freelancers, artists have limited affordable healthcare options.
The Affordable Care Act (ACA) provided some relief for freelancers (which includes most working artists). However, in states like Georgia, the Medicaid expansion never happened, and the market options are limited. Artists are typically under-insured. There is an organization working to provide short-term disability insurance for freelancers, but adequate health insurance for many artists and their families remains out of reach. In 2017, a change in health laws cracked a window for trade associations to provide member coverage. Even so, enforcement may vary by state, and it doesn’t guarantee that underwriters are willing to take on that type of risk without enforcement oversight.
In addition to health insurance, artists are feeling another fundamental resource slip away: housing. Artists are often attracted to “less desirable” areas because of cheap rents. When rents go up, artists are among the first residents to be displaced. In many cases, developers (and cities) see artists as a tool to activate vacant spaces—we know the story. But what is deeply troubling is the amount of blame and finger pointing artists receive as being agents of displacement due to gentrification. Our sector should be conscientious of how our occupation affects residents, yet artists are not providing millions of dollars in tax incentives for the gentrification of spaces. In fact, artists bring much to their communities that can make even the most affordable neighborhoods great places to live. We all bear the responsibility of ensuring our city is a place for all income levels.
How do we support artists?
We recognize artists as a group of workers who need professional resources. There are several nonprofits in Atlanta that are in a position to support artists more. Yet, funding for these organizations is not as prolific as funding for the output of art. Budgets reflect our values. Budgets and money allocations are the numerical expression of hopes and dreams. It’s a vision coming to life. What is the vision of Atlanta? If we value a vibrant city full of creative experiences, then we must value artists and we demonstrate this value in working across sectors to find solutions for better serving a group of workers found in almost every community across the United States.